What are Braxton Hicks and when do they start? How do you stop Braxton Hicks contractions?

What is Braxton Hicks?

You may suffer from false labor and it starts before true labor. These are the contractions which called as Braxton Hicks contraction.  It can also be said as a way of getting ready for the natural process of labor. However, it is not a sign of the beginning of labor.

Braxton Hicks Contractions: Causes and Treatment

You may notice the times in your pregnancy when your belly tightens and becomes hard to touch and then relaxes. These are called as Braxton Hicks. You can consider Braxton Hicks as the warm-up exercise for your uterus. Sometimes you may not notice such contractions as sometimes they are so mild that they hardly make you stop what you are doing. In 28th and 30th weeks of your pregnancy, you are more likely to feel Braxton Hicks but they are more common and frequent in the 20th week. It is very hard to tell the difference between true and false labor if you are going to be a mother for the very first time. Braxton Hicks contractions vary in strength and do not become more regular or stronger. They may go away when you are active and return when you are resting. You most likely will have them fewer than 4 times an hour

These contractions typically start in your third trimester of pregnancy. They’ll arrive from time to time, often in the afternoon or evening, and especially after you’ve had an active day. You won’t notice any real pattern, but the contractions may come more often the closer you get to your due date.

Braxton Hicks are described as irregular in intensity, infrequent, unpredictable, non-rhythmic, and more uncomfortable than painful (although for some women Braxton Hicks can feel painful) contractions. They do not increase in intensity or frequency and they taper off and then disappear altogether.

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

You may suffer from round ligament pain which is characterized by sharp, shooting pains on the sides of your abdomen. There are the ligaments which are stretched when your uterus grows, these ligaments support your uterus and attach to your pelvis. The pain in such ligament called as round ligament pain and it can also travel into your groin.

Movements such as standing up, rolling over, coughing, sneezing or urinating may cause round ligament pain. It typically only lasts a few seconds or minutes.

Some women describe Braxton Hicks contractions as tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes. Many women say these “false” contractions feel like mild menstrual cramps. Braxton Hicks contractions may be uncomfortable, but they do not cause labor or open the cervix..

Unlike true labor, Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • Are usually not painful
  • Don’t happen at regular intervals
  • Don’t get closer together
  • May stop with a change in activity or position
  • Do not last long as they go on
  • Do not feel stronger over time

You may feel Braxton Hicks contractions during the third trimester or as early as your second trimester. They are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

How can you tell Braxton Hicks from real contractions?

What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

Some gynecologists believe that Braxton Hicks are the contractions that play a role in toning the uterine muscles and are helpful in promoting the flow of blood to the placenta.  They play no role in expanding the cervix but might have an impact on softening the cervix walls because such contractions make the wall of uterus thinner at the end. At the time of delivery, the Braxton hicks become more intense due to which is often referred as “false labor”.

What are the signs of false labor?

You can predict yourself if you are suffering from real or false contractions. If you see signs given below then you are suffering from false labor:

  1. If you have a vaginal discharge which is more of brown color rather than bloody or pinkish, then it is a sign of false labor. Such discharge can occur due to sex or an internal examination.
  2. You may wake up in a pool of fluid which has a very foul smell like ammonia than it may be your own urine, not the amniotic fluid (no odor) which comes out after breaking the water bag. You should notice that if the liquid stopped coming out or it still draining because fluid from water bag continue to trickle out and you cannot stop it from urinating.
  3. At the time of Braxton Hicks, you may be confused that of real contractions have started. Even after a week of your due date, you can have Braxton Hicks, but in such case, you should seek emergency medical care, instead of ignoring such contractions.

Are Braxton Hicks dangerous for the baby?

What triggers Braxton Hicks contractions?

The following are triggers of Braxton Hicks:

  • When mother or the baby is very active
  • If someone touches the mother’s belly
  • When the bladder is full
  • Post sex
  • Dehydration

What should you do at home if you have Braxton Hicks?

Braxton hicks are the contractions that show up from time to time. But they last longer say for an hour, once they started. You are more likely to experience the true labor if they get stronger and longer. You should move to the hospital if you see the contractions lasting for 5 to 6 minutes apart.

You should head to your delivery hospital if you are not sure that its true labor. Even if it is false pain or false alarm you should not take it lightly and should seek emergency medical help. If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant and find such kind of contractions, you should get to the hospital on urgent basis.  If the contractions are painful, it may lead to bursting of your water bag.  You can see few measures in order to get relief from Braxton Hicks at home:

  1. You can try changing your position after every 30 minutes. Lie down on your back if you are sitting for long periods.
  2. You can try a warm bath that will help you to relax your muscles and thereby provides relief in pain and reduce muscle tension.
  3. Try getting up and walk around for some time.
  4. Drink plenty of water but you must consult it with your gynecologist first if you have some kidney, heart, or liver disease.
  5. Short walks may also help you feel better.

Preterm labor:

The gestation period of normal women is 37 to 42 weeks which is calculated from the date of her last menstrual period. If labor pain starts before 37 weeks, it is called as preterm labor. If preterm labor occurs before 20 weeks, it leads to miscarriage, also called an abortion. Preterm labor is diagnosed in a woman who is 20 to 37 weeks pregnant and has regular uterine contractions. Regular contractions here is defined as contractions that occur 4 or more in approx 20 minutes or 8 or more contractions in an hour. If you feel contractions continuously for an hour, call your doctor immediately. More precautions should be taken if the contractions didn’t stop after having plenty of water or resting.

Early labor

Early labor is often the longest part of the birthing process, sometimes lasting 2 to 3 days. In these uterine contractions are mild to moderate and last about 30 to 45 seconds. These contractions may be irregular about 5 to 20 minutes apart or it may even stop for a while. In this kind of labor, the cervix expands about 3 cm wide which is almost 1.2 inches. If you are becoming a mother for the first time, you may have an early labor without expanding the cervix which can last for many hours. Your doctor may recommend you to go back home and rest until your water bag breaks (membrane rupture).

Active labor:

Active labor is the labor that starts at right time of delivery. In this stage, the cervix expands about 3 cm to 4 cm. Cervix dilates to it maximum and baby is ready to be pushed out. The labor becomes really intense at the last stage of labor as compared to early labor.  It occurs more often and in every 2 to 3 minutes. It may last longer for about 50 to 70 seconds. You should rush to a hospital immediately even if your water bag (amniotic sac) has not broken. You will be immediately shifted to labor room where you will be learned to do breathing during contractions.

How can you tell Braxton Hicks from real contractions?

You can differentiate the true labor and Braxton hicks by:

  1. Real contractions can start after the 37th week of your pregnancy (earlier labor can be a sign of preterm labor) whereas the Braxton Hicks contractions occur as early as in the 2nd trimester but more likely in the 3rd trimester.
  2. Real contractions last for 30 to 70 seconds whereas the Braxton Hicks last for less than 30 seconds and last for up to 2 minutes.
  3. Real contractions feel like a cramping which comes as in waves. They start from the back side and moves to the front. They are very intense and painful as compared to other abdominal pains, whereas the Braxton hicks feel like a tightening or squeezing but they are not generally painful.

When should I call a doctor?

It is very important for you to talk to your doctor about pregnancy if everything is normal or something you find abnormal. If you are not sure about the pains or contractions, you should call your doctor or midwife. You should make sure that your doctor is available anytime in an emergency in case of preterm labor or such kind of pains. You should never be afraid to call and answer all the questions openly that are asked by doctor or midwife. Sometimes a doctor may need to evaluate the exact cause of pain, therefore, you should never wait for any such condition.

Absolutely call your doctor or midwife right away, at any time, if you have:

  • Any vaginal bleeding.
  • Continuous leaking of fluid, or if your water breaks (can be a gushing or a trickling of fluid)
  • Strong contractions every 5 minutes for an hour
  • Contractions that you are unable to “walk through”
  • A noticeable change in your baby’s movement, or if you feel less than 10 movements every 2 hours
  • Any symptoms of true labor contractions if you are not yet 37 weeks

What are the pattern of Braxton hicks and labor contraction?

When the pattern of the normal and false labor is observed and compared, it is found that:

  • The lower uterine segment is inactive, during the first stage of labor, whereas the uppermost part of the uterus is highly active.
  • Such pattern is recorded by the electrical activity of the uterus that confirms the pattern also.
  • In the first stage of the labor, the cervix is dilated almost 70-75% (around 5cm) and the activity in the upper part of the fundus become very strong.
    • This pattern is completely in contrast to the pattern in Braxton Hicks which says:
    • In the Braxton Hicks, the entire uterus is frequently active mainly in the week or two before the term.
    • This all happens due to increase in the size of the fetus, hence results in the longer uterus which makes the uterine wall thinner. This makes the two concomitant changes:
    • The lower uterine segment becomes thinner due to contraction in muscles of the uterus which gathered up towards the fundus by brachystatic shortening of fibers lying along the length of the uterus.
  • The wall of the uterus becomes thinner due to growing fetus stretch the uterus in its thinnest parts.
  • Under normal circumstances, this result is assured because the intense contractions in the fundus prevent the uterus from delivering the fetus before proper growth.
  • Therefore the contractions of the lower part of the uterus are abolished in order to prevent any consequences.
  • Such changes in the cervix are known as Cervix ripening which is a consequence of these changes.
  • Increase in occurrence and increase in intensity mainly in fundus appear therefore it prepares the uterus for the normal onset of labor as per its own particular pattern
  • Therefore Braxton Hicks contraction affects the duration of gestation and they do set a stage where one can be ready for labor. However, it should not be considered as of prognostic value.

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