What are Braxton Hicks’s Contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions, often referred to as “practice contractions,” are sporadic uterine contractions that start about six weeks into a pregnancy. However, you probably won’t feel them as true labor contractions until sometime after mid-pregnancy, if at all. These contractions are usually infrequent and somewhat unpredictable, unlike the regular pattern of contractions that occur during actual labor.
The Origin of the Term
The term “Braxton Hicks” was coined in 1872 by an English doctor named John Braxton Hicks who was the first to describe the contractions that occur before real labor. Dr. Hicks was a prominent obstetrician of his time who dedicated his career to studying the various stages and phenomena of pregnancy. His work led to a better understanding of the difference between false labor contractions and true labor, which has since helped countless women in distinguishing between the two.
How Braxton Hicks’s Contractions Feel
Braxton Hicks contractions can be described as a tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes. These contractions do not increase in intensity or frequency, and they can occur at any time. They often become more frequent and noticeable as the pregnancy progresses. Some women experiencing Braxton hicks contractions tend to describe them as a feeling of mild menstrual cramps or a tightening in a specific area of the abdomen that comes and goes.
Where Braxton Hicks Contractions are Felt
Braxton Hicks contractions are usually felt in the front of the abdomen, but not in the back or lower part of the uterus. The sensation can be uncomfortable but it’s not usually painful.
The Purpose of Braxton Hicks Contractions
Body’s Preparation for Labor
Braxton Hicks contractions are the body’s way of preparing for the real thing – when labor begins. They help to tone the uterine muscle and promote the flow of blood to the placenta. They are not a sign of labor. Instead, they are a sign that your body is preparing and getting ready for “the real thing” which is the labor process.
Difference between Braxton Hicks and Real Labor Contractions
Unlike real labor contractions, Braxton Hicks are irregular and do not get closer together. They vary in length and intensity and will taper off and disappear. Real labor contractions, on the other hand, come at regular intervals and get closer together as time goes on. They also tend to last longer and increase in intensity.
Possible Causes of Braxton Hicks Contractions
While the exact cause of these contractions is unknown, some factors may contribute to their occurrence. These include dehydration, being very active, needing to urinate, having sex, and lifting something heavy. Some healthcare providers believe that Braxton Hicks contractions may help to soften and thin the cervix, a process known as effacement.
When Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Start?
Braxton Hicks contractions can start as early as the second trimester. However, they are most commonly experienced in the third trimester. This is when the body starts to prepare itself for the process of giving birth.
Frequency of Braxton Hicks Contractions
The frequency of these contractions can vary from woman to woman. Some may experience them several times a day, while others may not experience them at all. It’s important to remember that these contractions are normal and are just a sign that your body is preparing for labor.
How to Alleviate Braxton Hicks Contractions
Drinking water can sometimes help alleviate Braxton Hicks’s contractions. Dehydration can cause the uterus to contract, so staying hydrated can help prevent contractions. It’s recommended to drink at least eight glasses of water a day to stay properly hydrated.
Changing your position or activity can often help to alleviate the contractions. If you’re sitting, try standing. If you’re standing, try walking. Movement can help to ease the discomfort and can also help to reduce the frequency of the contractions.
A warm bath can also help to relax your muscles and alleviate the contractions. The warmth of the water can help to soothe the uterine muscles and can the contractions continue to provide a sense of relief.
Resting or doing something relaxing like reading a book or getting a prenatal massage can also help to alleviate Braxton Hicks’s contractions.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Signs of Preterm Labor
If the contractions become regular and painful, it could be a sign of preterm labor. Other signs include pressure in the pelvis, lower back, abdominal pain, and changes in vaginal discharge. If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. It’s always better to be safe and get checked out if you’re unsure.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider
Don’t hesitate to call your healthcare provider if you’re unsure about what you’re feeling. They can ask you some questions to help determine if you’re in labor. If there’s any question at all, it’s better to be evaluated by your provider. It’s essential to call your healthcare provider at any time if you have bright red vaginal bleeding, continuous leaking of fluid or wetness, strong contractions every five minutes for one hour, contractions that you’re unable to walk through, or a noticeable change in your baby’s movement.
Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy and are the body’s way of preparing for labor. They can be uncomfortable, but they are usually harmless. However, if they become regular and painful, it could be a sign of preterm labor, and you should seek medical attention. Remember, every pregnancy is unique, and what’s normal for one person may not be for another. Always consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.