Contractions signal your body when you’re in labor when you’re in the final stages of pregnancy. They can, however, be false alarms. In honor of the doctor who first described them, these are called Braxton-Hicks contractions. Essentially, they are practice contractions that prepare your body for the arrival of your baby. Can’t tell whether your contractions are Braxton-Hicks or real? Are you wondering how to identify Braxton-hick contractions? Here’s how you can tell the difference.
Most likely, contractions that occur only occasionally are Braxton-Hicks. However, if they turn into stronger contractions or they become more frequent, you are likely to be in actual labor. You should probably head to the hospital when they’re five or six minutes apart. Getting to the hospital is particularly important if you are less than 37 weeks into your pregnancy, the contractions are painful, or if your water has broken.
In This Article
Braxton-Hicks Contractions are also called prodromal labor or ‘practice contractions and have popularly got their name after an English doctor John Braxton-Hicks, who was the pioneer in describing them as early as 1872. False labor or Braxton Hicks contractions are characterized as sporadic contractions of the uterine musculature.
Braxton-Hick contractions usually start somewhere when the pregnancy is around six weeks. But they are mostly perceived during the second or third trimester. If you are in your 37th week of pregnancy and get more than four contractions in an hour, immediately consult your doctor.
You will observe that your uterus has tightened because of muscles getting tense and hormone oxytocin, and contractions will be infrequent and irregular. These contractions are your body’s way to prepare itself for labor. Most likely in the third trimester, Braxton-Hick Contractions are pretty common for pregnant women, though some women never experience them.
Below signs are observed during Braxton-Hicks contractions, unlike true labor:
Your pregnancy hormones – are slowly sending signals to your brain to prepare your body for labor and childbirth. Though they can be uncomfortable and you might feel it difficult to distinguish between real and false labor, just remember that they are not efficient or strong to push your baby out.
You will start to notice them sometime after your 20th week of pregnancy, intensifying as you get into the later stages of pregnancy. They particularly increase around the 32nd week of pregnancy till you go into real labor.
When you have true labor pains, the contractions become longer, closer, and stronger while Braxton-Hicks contractions are shorter, weaker, and intermittent. They are not very painful and do not have a rhythmic pattern. These contractions are called false labor pains as they fluctuate and have an inconsistent pattern.
They get subsided on walking or lying down. They are like tightening in the abdomen and will pass off without becoming closer. On the contrary, in true labor pains, the contractions are close together, increase on walking, and last long.
Real labor pains manifest as dull aches or discomfort in your back or lower abdomen. You will feel pressure on your pelvis. You might also experience pain or cramps in the legs and thighs. Women often explain the nature of true labor pains as cramps experienced in diarrhea or menstruation. True labor also increases in intensity with each time you have a contraction, whereas Braxton-Hicks contractions come and go like lightning.
The below signs will easily help you identify Braxton-Hicks contractions:
Braxton-Hicks contractions usually disappear with a change in positions or walking. True labor pains are not affected by either walking or changing position. You can even get a gentle back massage or rest for some time. Eating and drinking also ease Braxton-Hicks contractions. True labor contractions intensify when you walk or change positions, unlike Braxton-Hicks contractions that go away as soon as you change positions.
If you are able to talk and speak during contractions, then surely the pain is due to Hicks contractions and the true labor pains have not started yet. During actual labor pains, the calm speech will not be possible.
If you experience pain at the side of the stomach, be clear it is not true labor pains. Actually, these are round ligament pain and they are radiated in your groin. The cause of these pains is the stretching of ligaments that support the uterus. Do not confuse them with true labor pains.
Some simple ways to alleviate Braxton-Hicks contractions are:
A warm bath is also helping in soothing Braxton-Hicks contractions. Take a warm bath to relax your body and calm down the irritated uterus. Use only lukewarm water and not steaming hot. True labor pains are not affected by a warm bath.
Braxton-Hicks contractions are triggered when you are dehydrated or when the bladder is full. Drink a lot of fluids and take proper rest. These are not very painful-just uncomfortable.
They are also caused by anxiety, so make sure you take adequate rest during pregnancy and avoid taking unnecessary stress.
Unlike real labor that does not stop even when you are trying to take some rest, false labor contractions will cease in intensity and frequency if you change your position or take a small walk.
Some people call them to practice contractions, but they do not dilate the cervix. However, they are helpful in toning the uterine musculature and facilitating the blood flow to the fetal placenta. When your pregnancy approaches the due date, your cervix becomes ripe and soft. This is a natural preparation for the onset of labor.
The contractions become intense and frequent. No cervical changes are associated with Braxton-Hicks contractions. The labor pains cause effacement of cervix (thinning of cervix) and its dilatation. This phase is often referred to as the ‘pre-labor stage’.
You should call your caregiver immediately under the following conditions:
Clarify all doubts regarding pains from your doctor. Do not feel hesitant and clear all questions regarding baby and delivery Remember, it is always better to stay safe than regret afterward. You can even ask your doctor to tell you more about false labor pains and how to differentiate them from the true ones.
Remember pregnancy is a beautiful and lifelong experience. Proper knowledge about the various phases of this amazing journey will enable you to enjoy it with comfort!