Pregnancy

Braxton-Hicks Contractions

Braxton-Hicks Contractions

Key Takeaways

  • Braxton-Hicks contractions are named after a doctor who first got to described them following the research he conducted in 1872.
  • Some expectant mothers can feel Braxton-Hicks contractions as early as the 16th week of pregnancy.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions occur more frequently as your due date approaches.

What are Braxton-Hicks?

A woman's body experiences a number of changes during pregnancy. Our bodies are similar to the most sophisticated machines in performing many complicated processes without us knowing. In the later stages of pregnancy, many processes begin to prepare the mother for the upcoming labor. Uterine muscles need to contract to become stronger and consequently be able to soften the cervix during labor preparations. These muscle contractions, in medical jargon called Braxton-Hicks, can be upsetting, but they are a false alarm.

Braxton-Hicks contractions are named after a doctor who first got to described them following the research he conducted in 1872. John Braxton Hicks, an English doctor, observed later stages of pregnancy and noticed the occurrence of false contractions. After observing the confusing contractions, he soon came to realize that these contractions were the only way to get the body ready for the baby’s arrival. Moreover, he also observed that the contractions do not cause any pain or pose a threat to the mother’s health.

When do Braxton-Hicks start?

Some expectant mothers can feel Braxton-Hicks contractions as early as the 16th week of pregnancy. However, they are normally felt in the final stages of pregnancy. Research show that Braxton-Hicks actually start in the 7th week of pregnancy, but cannot be felt during that period. As the womb expands, the possibility of feeling the contractions is higher.

When do Braxton-Hicks end?

This again depends on each pregnant woman. Some women can go through their entire pregnancy without having false contractions. But then again, there are some that will continue to experience them until their true contractions begin. It is good to let your healthcare provider know that you are having these contractions. Braxton-Hicks contractions also occur more frequently as your due date approaches. If, by any chance, you notice that they are becoming very frequent, followed by back, pelvic, or abdominal pain, or come with a vaginal discharge, call your doctor immediately.

What do Braxton-Hicks feel like?

The main difference between real contractions and Braxton-Hicks is in the frequency, intensity, and duration of the contractions. Pregnant women describe Braxton-Hicks contractions as a feeling of tightening in their abdomen or having a mild form of menstrual cramps. There is no exact time when you will experience such false contractions, but many women have reported that they felt the contractions after having an active or tiring day. As your due date approaches, there is a chance that false contractions will become more frequent. However, there is definitely no typical pattern that can be applied in general. Braxton-Hicks contractions are characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Disappearing contractions 
  • Contractions that don’t get stronger or become closer together
  • Contractions that can go away after you have emptied your bladder or had a light exercise
  • Contractions that don’t last longer than a minute

Braxton-Hicks contractions are unquestionably very uncomfortable, but they do not cause any short-term or long-term problems for the mother and her baby.

What do real contractions feel like?

When you are having true labor contractions, all relevant factors such as the intensity, duration, and frequency of contractions, will definitely increase as time goes by. The main characteristics of regular contractions are the following:

  • Painful and worsening contractions 
  • Contractions happen at regular intervals and getting closer together as labor approaches
  • Resting or changing positions will not relieve the contractions 
  • Contractions that last longer and feel stronger as they go on
  • Contractions that do not ease up in any way

Braxton-Hicks frequency

By definition, Braxton-Hicks contractions should be sporadic. However, many women noticed that the contractions were more frequent during minor physical efforts, such as loading the groceries in the car. In case your contractions are irregular, occurring sometimes in the morning, and then sometimes in the afternoon or evening, there is nothing to be concerned about.

Frequency can range from once to twice daily to every 5-10 minutes per day. The frequency of Braxton-Hicks contractions can be very confusing because it can convince you that you have gone into labor. Therefore, it is important to stress that having a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions before labor begins is completely normal.

Do Braxton-Hicks contractions hurt?

Braxton Hicks contractions aren’t supposed to hurt, but since human bodies differ, it is not very unusual for some pregnant women to experience painful Braxton-Hicks contractions. The factors that can contribute to having painful false contractions are having different levels of pain tolerance and having a more sensitive uterus. If you are dehydrated, the intensity of pain can increase, so make sure that you take lots of fluids all the time. In addition, common circumstances can sometimes trigger painful Braxton-Hicks contractions, such as an increased activity of the mother or baby, frequent touching of the abdomen, sexual intercourse, or a distended bladder.

How to relieve Braxton-Hicks contractions

If your contractions are very uncomfortable, it can help to lie down or vice versa and to walk during their duration. Sometimes, a warm bath can help decrease the level of discomfort. Some doctors advise drinking a glass or two of water if the contractions become uncomfortable because dehydration often causes increased Braxton-Hicks contractions. Insufficient intake of fluids in the body can make the uterus more sensitive. In addition to adequate fluid intake, deep breathing exercises can relieve Braxton-Hicks contractions, too.

10 best tips to relieve Braxton-Hicks contractions:

  1. Have plenty of rest - The real danger that Braxton-Hicks could cause is not having enough sleep, and thus, not being properly rested for the upcoming labor.
  2. Change your sleeping pattern - Sometimes, the baby’s activity is at the highest levels in the early evening hours. Hence, it is often necessary to adjust your sleeping time to begin after the fetal activity has peaked.
  3. Rest lying on one hip or another - When you lie on your back, the uterus is more sensitive and Braxton-Hicks can become more frequent.
  4. Scheduling your meals - Eat more often than usual, but divide your meals into 5-6 smaller portions. Control the level of fiber in your diet. While fiber is highly beneficial for a regular bowel movement, during pregnancy, they can cause contractions.
  5. Empty your bladder - Make sure your bladder is always empty to avoid extra pressure in your uterus.
  6. Do not take hot baths for too long - It may cause dehydration leading to false contractions.
  7. Pay attention to lower back pain - Such pain can indicate the beginning of true labor.
  8. Avoid having your nipples scrubbed as a part of breastfeeding preparations.
  9. Think of contractions in terms of preparing for childbirth. Even though they can be really annoying and uncomfortable, they pose a major factor in the preparation of your cervix for delivery.
  10. Rule out the possibility of premature labor - Observe and monitor the frequency, duration, and intensity of your contractions. If you notice a bloody or watery discharge and stronger increasing pains, it could mean that you are going into labor earlier than expected.