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So, what exactly are Braxton Hicks contractions and what do they feel like? Should you see your doctor when you experience them? Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as “false labor”, are uncomfortable and often confusing to expectant mothers. While Braxton-Hicks does not mean that a woman is going into labor, a first-time mother may not know the difference between the two.
A British obstetrician named Dr. John Braxton Hicks discovered in the 19th century that the uterus contracted as it expands over the course of nine months. These contractions that do not prepare the body for labor are actually part of the natural process and do not cause any physical issues in the pregnancy.
What Does A Braxton Hicks Contraction Feel Like?
Braxton Hicks contractions feel similar to menstrual cramps because the tightening and cramping typically occur in the lower abdomen and pelvis. These contractions are uncomfortable, but not actually painful. They are also felt more in front of the body rather than the entire lower body. They often occur in the last trimester of pregnancy, but they can start during the second trimester as well.
Braxton Hicks can be inconsistent. They can last for a few seconds or up to two minutes. Contractions can occur a few times a day or a few times a week.
Here are some other things to help you know if the contractions are Braxton Hicks:
- Don’t happen at regular intervals
- Don’t get closer together as time goes on
- Are usually not painful
- They can stop with a change in activity or position
- Do not last longer as time goes on
- Do not feel stronger over time
What is the Difference Between a Braxton Hicks Contraction and a Real Contraction?
Braxton Hicks contractions can occur any time during the last trimester. Many mothers have found that changing what they are doing can stop the contraction. If they occur while sitting, stand up and change position. If exercising, take a break and focus on breathing. As the pregnancy progresses, Braxton Hicks contractions do not feel stronger or last longer.
A real contraction means that the body is getting ready for labor. The contractions are opening up the cervix and preparing the birth canal. The contraction can be felt in the abdomen, lower back, and even the legs. These contractions may start with the same sensations of Braxton Hicks, but they are more consistent and increase in intensity. As the mother gets closer to delivery, the amount of time between contractions is shorter. The only thing that can stop real contractions is the birth of the baby.
Can These Contractions Hurt the Baby?
There is no indication that Braxton Hicks have any impact on the baby. However, what your baby does can trigger a false contraction. There is usually some fetal activity before a Braxton Hicks.
Can Braxton Hicks Contractions Go Away?
Braxton Hicks contractions are a way for the body to prepare for the baby. The muscles in the uterus are tightening and relaxing without affecting the cervix. Some expecting mothers may not feel it at all while others will learn how to deal with the discomfort. If you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, there are a few ways to make them go away, even if it is for a little while.
- Change positions
- Relax and focus on breathing
- Drink Something
- A hot bath or heat pad (be sure not to use either of these too long, as when pregnant you do not want to raise your core body temperature too high)
In some cases, false labor contractions can be a sign of dehydration. Since hydration is important in all stages of pregnancy, it can be an indicator that the body needs more water.
When Should You Go to the Doctor?
At your next appointment, let your doctor know that you have been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. Be sure to provide details such as length of contraction and their frequency. Your obstetrician can determine during your examination if the cervix is thinning or if labor is starting. You will also want to let them know if you have lost your mucus plug, as this can be another sign of upcoming labor. They can discuss what is normal and when it is time to call them right away. Symptoms that need to be addressed right away include:
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding
- Constant leaking or if your water breaks
- Contractions that become consistent and more painful, such as those that occur about five minutes apart
- A decrease in fetal activity
- Active labor and contractions
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