Braxton Hicks, or sporadic uterine contractions, can start as early as the second trimester, but most women don’t notice them until the 3rd or 4th trimester. Certain factors, such as dehydration or a full bladder, can intensify them, but unlike genuine labour contractions, they are rarely uncomfortable. However, if you have pain or discomfort (especially if you are 37 weeks or early in your pregnancy), you should contact your doctor.
What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular uterine contractions that begin early in pregnancy but are usually not noticed until after the second trimester. (Some women are completely unaware of them.) They are named after the English physician John Braxton Hicks, who originally described them in 1872.
Braxton Hicks contractions become more frequent as the pregnancy progresses, but they are likely to remain infrequent, irregular, and usually painless until the last few weeks.
Braxton Hicks contractions can be difficult to distinguish from the first signs of preterm labour, so be careful and don’t try to diagnose yourself. If you feel regular contractions but have not reached 37 weeks, or if you experience any of the symptoms of preterm labour listed below, call your doctor immediately.
By the time your due date is a few weeks away, the cervix has most likely started to “mature” or gradually soften in preparation for labour. Contractions can become more severe and frequent in this period, causing some discomfort.
These contractions, unlike earlier intermittent mild Braxton Hicks contractions that did not create visible changes to the cervix, can help to thin (erase) and even open (dilate) the cervix. Antepartum is a term used to describe this period.
What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Although the specific reason for Braxton Hicks contractions is uncertain, some doctors believe that they help tone the uterine muscle and prepare the body for full-blown labour. It’s like your uterus is preparing for the big event! Braxton Hicks contractions can occur at any time, although they are most noticeable when:
- At the end of the day
- When you are dehydrated
- When your bladder is full
- During or after sex or physical activity.
What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?
You will feel your uterus, lower abdomen, or spine tighten or squeeze when you experience a contraction, either from Braxton Hicks or from actual labour. Braxton Hicks contractions, unlike labour contractions, are irregular and usually painless, although they can sometimes be uncomfortable and painful. Some women describe Braxton Hicks as minor menstrual cramps. Others say they feel a strong constriction that takes their breath away. During the Braxton Hicks contraction, some women experience it when the baby “swells,” while others notice a change in the curvature of their stomachs. Braxton Hicks symptoms include:
- There is no consistent pattern.
- Vary the intensity, but rather of increasing stronger, taper off.
- They are annoying, but they are not usually painful.
- Are uncommon
- It can stop if it moves or changes position.
How can I tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labour?
Braxton Hicks contractions can become rhythmic, close together, and even painful in the days or weeks leading up to labour, deceiving you into thinking you’re in labour. Contrary to actual labour, however, contractions during this so-called false labour do not always get longer, stronger, or closer together.
Here are some key differences:
|Braxton Hicks (false labour)||True labour|
|Contractions are sporadic and are not more frequent.||Contractions occur at regular intervals and gradually get closer. Each lasts between 30 and 90 seconds.|
|When you walk, rest, or change position, your contractions may stop.||Contractions persist regardless of how you move.|
|Most contractions are weak (or perhaps strong and then weak).||Contractions become more severe over time.|
|Contractions can be felt in the front of your abdomen.||The contractions seem to start in the back and progress to the front.|
Is Braxton Hicks painful?
Braxton Hicks contractions are not normally painful, but they are inconvenient. To ease the pain of Braxton Hicks contractions, do the following:
- Change what you are doing or where you are standing. Walking can be therapeutic at times. Most of the time, resting helps ease contractions.
- Drink some water because dehydration can sometimes induce these contractions.
- Take calm, deep breaths or relax with relaxation exercises. This will not make your Braxton Hicks contractions go away, but it may help you deal with the pain. (Take this opportunity to try some of the pain management techniques he learned in his labour preparation class.)
- Warm-up with a cup of tea or milk.
- Take a 30-minute bath in warm (but not hot) water.
When should I call my healthcare provider about Braxton Hicks or pain?
- If your contractions become more rhythmic, painful, or frequent, or if you have any of these indicators of preterm labour, call your doctor or go to the hospital right away if you are under 37 weeks.
- Abdominal discomfort, menstruation-like cramps, or lower back pain that does not go away despite rest
- Constant contractions (at least six an hour or every ten minutes, even if they are not painful)
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting
- If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider:
- An increase in vaginal discharge.
- A change in the type of discharge, such as becoming watery, mucus-like, or bloody (even if it’s just pink or blood-tinged)
- In the pelvic or lower abdominal area, there is a lot of pressure (as if your baby is pushing down)
- Low back pain, especially if you’ve never had it before or if it’s dull or rhythmic
- Ask your provider when to contact them to let them know that you are having contractions if you are older than 37 weeks. Also, call your doctor or go to the hospital if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Even if you don’t feel the contractions, the water breaks.
- You have vaginal bleeding (more than just spotting).
- Your contractions are five minutes (or less) apart.
- You have severe and constant pain.
- Your baby’s movements have slowed down or stopped completely.