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Braxton-Hicks Contractions: A guide for Beginners

Braxton-Hicks Contractions: A guide for Beginners

Over the course of a pregnancy, a great many changes happen. Some will feel familiar in one way or another and others will be foreign. Braxton-Hicks contractions may be unfamiliar. Braxton-Hicks contractions are not regular contractions, but they can feel that way and this can be unnerving. 

Braxton-Hicks contractions are often unsettling for many pregnant women. Especially if they come early in the term, Braxton-Hicks contractions can be a real source of anxiety. But Braxton-Hicks contractions are quite normal. 

Among all the things that happen during pregnancy, from the growth of the belly to the physical symptoms like morning sickness and food cravings, Braxton-Hicks contractions are frequently seen as an unwelcome complication that provides little else but concern. 

With the idea that being informed is the best way to be prepared, this article will give you all the information you need to understand Braxton-Hicks contraction. What are Braxton-Hicks contractions? What do they mean? And What are the symptoms of Braxton-Hicks contractions? We will provide you with what you need to know so you are ready for your pregnancy. 

What are Braxton-Hicks?

Often called “false labor pains,” Braxton-Hicks contractions are feelings that are quite similar to labor contractions but are not really indicative of labor. Braxton-Hicks contractions usually come toward the end of a pregnancy. 

In essence, Braxton-Hicks contractions are your body’s way of preparing itself for the real thing. While they do sometimes feel like real contractions, there are some important differences that will allow you to know what is happening. 

Braxton-Hicks contractions can begin thinning the uterus, but they do not lead to delivery. They are not doing the same work as real contractions. 

You may have Braxton-Hicks contractions during your third trimester of pregnancy or as early as your second trimester of pregnancy. They’re normal and nothing to worry about.

You can distinguish Braxton-Hicks contractions from "real" contractions or the contractions that signal the onset of labor, by some important distinctions. Labor contractions happen when your body begins to release the hormone oxytocin. This signals your uterus to contract and this is labor. 

Labor normally begins in the 40th week of pregnancy. Labor contractions that begin at week 37 signal the possibility of premature labor. 

Real contractions tighten the top part of your uterus in order to push the baby downward into the birth canal. Labor contractions also thin the cervix to prepare for birth.  

True labor contractions are often described as a wave. The pain begins slowly and builds to a peak, then ebbs. You can feel the tightness in your abdomen by touching your belly.  True labor contractions are also evenly spaced (five minutes apart, then two minutes, then one), whereas Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular. 

Other signs of true labor also include:

  • The appearance of a “bloody show.” This includes pink or bloody mucus when you use the bathroom. 
  • You may feel that the baby has dropped lower in your belly. 
  • Water may leak from your vagina. This is a sign that the amniotic sac has broken. 

Braxton Hicks causes

Braxton Hicks causes

The fact is, the cause of Braxton-hicks contractions is not known. However, there are some things that can trigger Braxton-Hicks contractions. 

Some activities and conditions can increase stress on the placenta and increase blood flow. This leads to an increase in oxygen to the baby. It is thought that these activities can lead to Braxton-Hicks contractions. 

Dehydration

It is important to stay properly hydrated while you are pregnant. Women should drink 10-12 cups of water every day. 

Physical activity

Many women notice Braxton Hicks contractions after they have been on their feet for long periods of time. Doing strenuous activity of any kind can also trigger Braxton-Hicks contractions. 

Sex

Orgasm can cause the uterus to contract. The reason for this is that your body produces the hormone oxytocin from orgasm. This is the same hormone that makes the uterus contract. Prostaglandins from semen can also cause the uterus to contract. 

Full bladder

A full bladder can put pressure on your uterus. This can lead to contractions and cramping. 

It is important to remember that these are all fairly normal conditions and the Braxton-Hicks contractions that result not typically lead to premature labor. 

Braxton Hicks symptoms

Braxton Hicks symptoms

Braxton-Hicks are generally mild. They can feel a little like menstrual cramps. They usually come during the third trimester of pregnancy. 

Braxton-Hicks contractions generally are uncomfortable but do not cause actual pain. You may feel tightening in your abdomen that soon relaxes. These sensations can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. 

Braxton-Hicks contractions are also sporadic. They do not follow a pattern. Some women feel them at specific times of the day, while other women may experience Braxton-Hicks contractions on and off throughout the day. 

They differ from real contractions in the following ways:  

  • Usually aren’t painful
  • Don’t have a regular pattern
  • Don’t get closer together
  • Don’t last longer as they go on
  • Don’t get stronger over time
  • May stop when you change activities or positions
  • Are felt only in your belly
  • Taper off and disappear

Braxton Hicks vs real contractions

Braxton-Hicks contractions can be alarming, especially for first-time mothers. So, how to tell the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and labor contractions? Thankfully, there are some key differences that you can pay attention to so know when labor is really coming on. 

Bear in mind that any time during your pregnancy that you feel contractions of any kind, you should consult with your doctor or midwife.

Here are some crucial differences between Braxton-Hicks contractions and labor contractions. 

Onset

Braxton-Hicks come early in the pregnancy but are often not felt. They are most pronounced in the second and third trimester.

Labor contractions come at about 37 weeks.

How they feel

Braxton-Hicks consist of tightening, discomfort. May be weak or strong but do not become progressively stronger. 

Labor contractions are strong. There is pain and cramping. They can be so intense that you may have difficulty walking. They get progressively stronger. 

Location of pain

Braxton-Hicks contractions are typically in the front abdomen. 

Labor contractions start in the back and wrap around to the abdomen. 

How long they last

Braxton -Hicks contractions last about 30 seconds to 2 minutes. 

Labor contractions are 3-70 seconds and increase over time. 

How often do they occur

Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular and cannot be timed.

Labor contractions get stronger and closer together. 

When they stop

Braxton-Hicks contractions can go away and ease up with a change of position or hydration. 

Labor contractions do not ease up.  

Braxton Hicks treatment

Braxton Hicks treatment

If you think you are experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, you should first consult with your doctor to make sure this is what is happening. After you and your doctor have made certain nothing else is going on, there are a few things you can do to help. 

The first thing to do for Braxton-Hicks contractions is to take it easy. Seriously, one of the main causes of Braxton-Hicks contractions is overdoing it, and taking some time to relax and rest is the first order for alleviating this issue.  

There is no medical treatment for Braxton-Hicks contractions, but you can try the following things:

Make sure you are emptying your bladder regularly. 

Pregnancy is not a good time to hold it in. Drink three to four glasses of water. You can try other things like herbal tea, but water is the best way to hydrate. 

Lay on the couch on your left side.

This promotes better blood flow to your kidneys, uterus, and placenta. 

If neither of these things help, consult with your doctor again. There is a condition called irritable uterus that can be treated medically. 

You should always consult your doctor if you experience abdomen pain. There are some other things that can cause abdominal pains and cramping that may get confused with Braxton-Hicks contractions. These can include:

Urinary tract infection: As the baby grows, they will put pressure on your bladder. This will make you need to urinate more frequently. This also means you are at a higher risk for UTIs. A UTI will also include burning during urination and more frequent trips to the bathroom. If a UTI is not treated it can spread to your kidneys. UTIs can easily be treated with antibiotics. 

Gas and/or constipation: Another unfortunate complication during pregnancy is gas and bloating. This happens because of the high levels of the hormone progesterone. Constipation is also quite common during pregnancy. All of these conditions lead to bloating, discomfort, and abdominal pain. 

You can treat these problems by drinking more fluids and eating more fiber. Exercise is also helpful. If these common treatments do not help, talk to your doctor who can prescribe things like stool softeners or laxatives. 

Round ligament pain: Sharp pains in the belly, particularly on one side or the other, are often signs of what is called round ligament pain. These pains can also shoot into your groin area. Round ligament pain happens when the ligaments that support your uterus get stretched to accommodate the growth of your uterus. 

Other more serious issues may also cause abdominal pain. If you experience any of the following, see your doctor right away. 

Placental abruption: This is when the placenta detaches from the uterus either partially or completely. Placental abruption can cause intense and constant pain, and it can make your uterus feel tight or hard. 

Preeclampsia: Preeclampsia is a condition in which your blood pressure rises to potentially dangerous levels. You may feel pain in your upper abdomen near your rib cage. The pain may be concentrated on your right side. 

Again, these are issues that require immediate medical attention. If you think you are experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, but the pain becomes severe or does not subside, contact your doctor. 

Braxton Hicks FAQs

What are Braxton-Hicks contractions? 

Often called “false labor pains,” these are contractions that usually come toward the end of a pregnancy. In essence, Braxton-Hicks contractions are your body’s way of preparing itself for the real thing. While they do sometimes feel like real contractions, there are some important differences that will allow you to know what is happening. 

Should I be concerned about Braxton-Hicks contractions? 

You need not worry about Braxton-Hicks contractions. While they can be part of the process that prepared your body for birth, they are not the same type of contractions that lead to early labor and premature birth. 

What causes Braxton-Hicks contractions?

The primary causes of Braxton-Hicks contractions are dehydration, physical activity, sex, and a full bladder. 

What are the symptoms of Braxton-Hicks contractions?

Braxton-Hicks contractions generally are uncomfortable but do not cause actual pain. You may feel tightening in your abdomen that soon relaxes. These sensations can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. 

What are the symptoms of Braxton-Hicks contractions? 

The main symptoms are tightening in the abdomen and cramps that feel similar to menstrual pain. 

How do I tell Braxton-Hicks contractions from labor contractions?

The main differences between Braxton-Hicks contractions and labor contractions are the severity of the pain and the pattern of the contractions. Braxton-Hicks contractions are generally uncomfortable rather than painful, whereas labor can be so painful you may not be able to walk. Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular, and labor contractions follow a pattern and increase in severity. 

Conclusion

So many things happen during the course of a normal and healthy pregnancy. For first-time mothers, many of these things can be surprising and a little unnerving. Getting early contractions is one of those things that can cause alarm.

Thankfully, the common early contractions, those that come at the start of the third trimester of pregnancy, are the common “false alarm” called Braxton-Hicks contractions. Braxton-Hicks contractions are not early labor contractions. 

While it is not fully known what causes Braxton-Hicks contractions, doctors do know that they are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. Braxton-Hicks contractions are a sign your body is gearing up for labor. They do not signal early labor, and they are nothing like labor contractions. 

That tightening in the abdomen and cramping that many women feel in the third trimester is a sign of Braxton-Hicks contractions. They are generally not painful, but they can be uncomfortable. 

So, while Braxton-Hicks contractions may come as a real surprise especially for first-time mothers, they are nothing to worry about. If you think you may be experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, definitely have things checked out with your doctor or midwife, but they are quite normal.