Braxton Hicks contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions are uterine contractions in which the uterus prepares for labor. They are named after  John Braxton Hicks , the English doctor who first described them in 1872.

These are intermittent uterine contractions that begin to occur in early pregnancy, but are likely not to be noticed until some time after mid-pregnancy: some women never notice them.

Braxton Hicks contractions tend to occur more frequently as the pregnancy progresses. They are irregular and painless.

It could happen that the Braxton Hicks contractions are confused with the first signs of pre-term labor and therefore, for this reason, it is not really the case to do a self-diagnosis: if you had not yet reached the 37th week and yet should you feel regular contractions, or should you notice any of the signs of pre-term labor listed below, contact your doctor immediately.

By the time you’re a couple of weeks away from your due date, it’s still likely that your cervix has started to “ripen” and gradually soften in preparation for labour. During this time, contractions can become more intense and more frequent, and can cause you inconvenience.

Unlike the Braxton Hicks contractions mentioned above, which are painless and sporadic and do not cause cervical changes, these contractions can help the cervix shrink and sometimes even open (dilate) a little.

This prodromal period to labor is often referred to as pre-labor.

When and how they appear

When you have any type of contraction — whether it’s Braxton Hicks or labor — you’ll feel your uterus, lower abdominal area, or groin, tighten or tense, and then relax.

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular, and while they can occasionally be uncomfortable strong and painful, they usually don’t hurt.

As we said, having contractions doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time for labor.

In the days or weeks just before labor, Braxton Hicks contractions can become rhythmic, relatively close together, and even painful, possibly leaving you mistakenly thinking you’ve gone into labor.

However, unlike “the real one,” the contractions you feel during this false labor don’t usually get longer, stronger, and consistently closer together over time.

Braxton Hicks contractions can occur at any time of the day, but you’re more likely to feel them at night, or when you’re dehydrated, have a full bladder, or during physical activity.

What to do if they are uncomfortable or painful

We mentioned that Braxton Hicks contractions usually don’t hurt, but they can be uncomfortable. However, to alleviate them try to implement the following remedies.

Change the activity you are doing, or change your location

Sometimes walking brings relief, while other times the best remedy is rest: on the other hand, “real” labor contractions persist and progress no matter what you do.

Drink some water

Sometimes these contractions can be caused by dehydration, so drink more.

Do some relaxation exercises or take slow, deep breaths

You can also take this opportunity to implement some of the pain management “strategies” you learned in your childbirth classes.

These steps won’t stop Braxton Hicks contractions, but they may help you cope with the discomfort.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor right away or go to the hospital if you have not yet reached 37 weeks and your contractions are becoming more rhythmic, painful, frequent, or if you have any of the following signs of a preterm birth.

  • Abdominal pain, or menstrual cramps.
  • Regular contractions (at least six per hour, or every 10 minutes, even if they don’t hurt).
  • Any type of vaginal bleeding (spotting).
  • An increase in vaginal discharge.
  • A change in the type of discharge: for example, if it becomes watery, looks like mucus, or is bloody (even if it’s just pink or bloodstained).
  • A pressure in the pelvic or lower abdominal area, as if the baby is pushing down.
  • A low back pain, especially if you’ve never had it before.

In actual labor,

  • contractions will come at regular intervals,
  • will last from 30 to 90 seconds,
  • they will get stronger and stronger and occur more and more frequently, no matter what you do.

Therefore it is advisable that you go to the hospital,

  • if your water breaks, even if you don’t have contractions;
  • if you notice vaginal bleeding (much more than spotting),
  • whether the contractions are five minutes apart (or less);
  • if you experience severe, constant pain.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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