Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular contractions of the uterus…

You may have heard the term “Braxton Hicks” before, but until you discovered you were pregnant, you didn’t pay much attention. However, this is something that could very realistically happen during your pregnancy. In this article we will discuss the symptoms and causes of Braxton Hicks contractions so you will be more familiar should you in fact experience them at some point in your mid to late pregnancy.

What are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular contractions of the uterus that can occur in the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. They tend to mainly occur during physical activity when the uterus tightens for 30-60 seconds starting at the top and spreading downward before ceasing. They are usually painless, but can be uncomfortable and often confused with genuine contractions.

Braxton hicks contractionsSome experts believe that they affect your cervix as it starts to stretch as it prepares for dilation.  It is ascertained that Braxton Hicks contractions increase the blood flow to the uterus and placenta and aid in the transfer of oxygen to your baby.

There are many factors that may contribute to this pregnancy symptom. Among these are high levels of activity for mother or baby, a full bladder, during or after sexual intercourse, or dehydration. A lot of women describe Braxton Hicks as mild menstrual cramps. Your body is starting to prepare for childbirth, but Braxton Hicks contractions are not a sign that you are about to go into labor. It is important to know the difference between Braxton Hicks Contractions and true labor contractions.

Braxton Hicks Contractions

  • infrequent and occurs no more than once to twice an hour and only a few times a day
  • often stop if you change your activity
  • normally do not last longer than sixty seconds
  • are unpredictable and non-rhythmic
  • do not increase in intensity
  • are usually felt in the front of the abdomen or pelvis

Labor Contractions

  • become noticeably and increasingly longer and more frequent
  • are painful while Braxton Hicks are not
  • start out lower and get higher while Braxton Hicks are the opposite
  • your abdomen will feel hard to the touch during a genuine contraction
  • start in your lower back and move to your abdomen or vice versa

You can ease or alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions by taking a walk, taking a nap or resting, relaxing in a warm bath or getting a massage. You can also drink some herbal tea, a glass of water or try to eat something. Relaxation exercises such as yoga and stretching may help alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions.  You can also use the breathing exercises that you are learning in your prenatal childbirth classes. Breathing long and slow can also help alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions.

The following steps are an easy way to help determine if you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • locate the pain: if the pain feels like a tight band across your abdomen it is most likely a Braxton Hicks contraction. Labor pain usually starts in the back and moves to the front or vice versa.
  • evaluate the pain level: Braxton Hicks contractions are usually not painful and will weaken with each occurrence while true labor pains increase with each occurrence.
  • time the contractions: Contractions are irregular and do not grow closer together with each occurrence. Labor pains start out slowly and become more frequent, starting around 15-20 minutes apart and then increasing to 5 more less minutes between contractions.
  • change positions: Contractions will often stop when you switch positions, while true labor contractions will not and will often intensify if you are walking or moving.
  • determine where you are in your pregnancy: Contractions usually occur under 37 weeks of pregnancy

When should I call my doctor or midwife?

If you start to experience pain, discomfort or pressure in your abdomen, lower back or pelvis you  may be experiencing the first true signs of labor. If you experience any of these at less than 37 weeks pregnant you should contact your midwife or doctor immediately. Braxton Hicks contractions are infrequent but labour pains come and go at regular intervals and increase in intensity over time.  If you are experiencing any of the following you need to seek immediate medical attention.

  • contractions that occur every ten minutes or more often
  • over five contractions in an hour’s time
  • increasing vaginal or pelvic pressure
  • vaginal bleeding
  • back pain or tightening in lower back and/or abdomen
  • fluid leaking from your vagina
  • vomiting, nausea or diarrhea
  • if you are having pains and can’t differentiate if they are labor or Braxton Hicks

It is important to know the difference between Braxton Hicks and true labor contractions. However, if you have any questions or are concerned, you should contact your doctor or midwife immediately. It is better to be safe than sorry.

And as always you should look out for other early pregnancy complications such as blurred vision, intense headaches, vaginal spotting, bleeding or leakage, intense cramping, dizziness, vertigo or fainting spells and severe nausea or vomiting. Seek help immediately if you experience any of these symptoms or anything else that seems out of the ordinary at any time during your pregnancy.