What Are Braxton-Hicks Contractions?
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 in 1872. False labor or Braxton Hicks contractions are characterized as sporadic contractions of the uterine musculature. They usually start somewhere when the pregnancy is around six weeks. But they are mostly perceived during 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.
What Are The Signs Of Braxton-Hicks Contractions?
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 is your body’s way to prepare itself for labor. Most likely in the third trimester, the Braxton-Hicks Contractions are pretty common for pregnant women, though some women never experience them. Below signs are observed during Braxton-Hicks contractions, unlike true labor:
- These are uncomfortable but not painful
- These are infrequent and are not regular
- Braxton-Hicks contractions do not increase when you walk, change positions or drink something
- They do not intensify with each contraction
- They do not close together
- There is no leakage or bleeding from your vagina
What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Your pregnancy hormones – which 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.
Identifying Braxton-Hicks Contractions From True Labor Pains
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. They 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 abdomen and will pass off without becoming closer. On the contrary true labor pains the contractions are close together, increases on walking and last long.
Recognize How True Labor Pains Feel
Real labor pains manifest as dull ache or discomfort in your back or lower abdomen. You will feel pressure on your pelvis. You might also experience pain or cramps in 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 as lightening. The below signs will easily help you identifying Braxton-Hicks contractions:
- Change Positions or walk: Braxton-Hicks contractions usually disappear with 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 eases 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
- Speech: 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, calm speech will not be possible
- Site of Pain: If you experience pain at the side of 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 uterus. Do not confuse them with true labor pains
Relieving Discomfort From Braxton-Hicks Contractions
Some simple ways to alleviate Braxton-Hicks contractions are:
- Warm bath: 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 warm bath
- Drinking fluids: 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
- Avoiding anxiety: They are also caused by anxiety, so make sure you take adequate rest during pregnancy and avoid take unnecessary stress
- Changing positions: Unlike real labor that does not stop even when you are trying to take some rest, false labpr contractions will cease in intensity and frequency if you change your position or take a small walk
Do Braxton-Hicks Contractions Dilate Cervix?
Some people call them practice contractions but they do not dilate the cervix. However they are helpful in toning the uterine musculature and facilitate the blood flow to the fetal placenta. When your pregnancy approaches the due date, your cervix become ripe and soft. This is 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 ‘pre-labor stage‘.
Calling The Doctor
You should call your caregiver immediately under following conditions:
- If you see any sticky mucous discharge from the vagina
- Any bleeding from the vagina
- Any watery discharge from the vagina (leaking)
- If you feel menstrual like cramps
- If you feel more than four contractions per hour
- If you feel excess pressure in the pelvic region (this is caused by baby’s pushing down)
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 afterwards. You can even ask your doctor to tell you more about false labor pains and how to differentiate it from the true ones.
Remember pregnancy is a beautiful and life-long experience. Proper knowledge about the various phases of this amazing journey will enable you to enjoy it with comfort!