Contractions (Braxton Hicks and the Real Deal….Contractions that is)

Braxton Hicks contractions

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are uterine contractions that typically start in the 2nd or 3rd trimester of your pregnancy, although you won’t be able to feel them that early. Some women will have very obvious Braxton Hicks contractions and some other women will have very few or none at all. They get their name from John Braxton Hicks, an English doctor who first described them in 1872.

As your pregnancy progresses, Braxton Hicks contractions tend to come somewhat more often, but until you get to your last few weeks, they’ll probably remain infrequent, irregular, and painless. Most often times you will have symptoms when you are up and moving around and find that they disappear pretty quickly when you sit or lay down.

By the time you’re within a couple of weeks of your due date, your cervix has likely begun to “ripen” or gradually soften up in preparation for labor. Your contractions may get more intense and more frequent, and they may cause some discomfort. Unlike the earlier painless and sporadic Braxton Hicks contractions, which caused no obvious cervical changes, these contractions may help your cervix thin out (efface) and maybe even open up (dilate) a bit. This period is sometimes referred to as pre-labor.

How can I tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and true labor contractions?

In the days or weeks before labor, Braxton Hicks contractions are usually found to be a mild tightening, occur every 10 to 15 minutes (or even less often), and go away after rest.

True labor usually becomes increasing uncomfortable, the discomfort will stop you from what you are doing. As it continues, the contractions might start at every 10 minutes, but eventually become more frequent (every 2 to 5 minutes), Finally, resting on the couch or laying down on the bed will NOT stop labor contractions…they’ll keep coming!

What can I do if my Braxton Hicks contractions are making me uncomfortable?

First of all, you call me (or your doctor or midwife) because we need to make sure you’re not in early labor.

If you’re within a few weeks of your due date, try these measures:

  • Change your activity or position. Sometimes walking provides relief. At other times, resting eases contractions. (True labor contractions, on the other hand, will persist and progress regardless of what you do.)
  • Take a warm bath to help your body relax.
  • Try drinking a couple of glasses of water, since these contractions can sometimes be brought on by dehydration.
  • Try relaxation exercises or slow, deep breathing. This won’t stop the Braxton Hicks contractions, but it may help you cope with the discomfort. (Use this opportunity to practice some of the pain-management strategies you’ve learned in your childbirth preparation class.)

When should I call my doctor or midwife?

Call your caregiver right away if you haven’t reached 37 weeks and your contractions are becoming more frequent, rhythmic, or painful, or if you have any of these possible signs of preterm labor:

  • Abdominal pain, menstrual-like cramping, or more than four contractions in one hour (even if they don’t hurt)
  • Any vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • An increase in vaginal discharge or a change in the type of discharge — if it becomes watery, mucusy, or bloody (even if it’s only pink or blood-tinged)
  • More pressure in the pelvic area (a feeling that your baby’s pushing down)
  • Low back pain, especially if it’s dull or rhythmic, or you didn’t previously have back pain

If you’re past 37 weeks, there’s no need to call your doctor or midwife just for contractions until they last about 60 seconds each and are five minutes apart and continue like this for an hour — unless your caregiver has advised you otherwise.