Braxton Hicks Contractions

Pregnancy is a time of many changes, both physical and emotional. Now that you are pregnant you are probably noticing that a whole variety of different symptoms are taking their toll on your body, especially morning sickness, weight gain, and bladder problems. As you move along in your pregnancy, you may begin to feel strange contractions in your abdomen, like a tight band across your tummy. These contractions aren’t actually labor pains, but instead are referred to as Braxton Hicks contractions, one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy.

What are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, you may have already experienced a number of Braxton Hicks contractions. That tightening that you feel from time to time in your uterus may feel like real labor, but it is actually a Braxton Hicks contraction. These contractions happen when your brain sends messages to your body to prepare for labor. In response, your body contracts the muscles in your uterus to help get ready for your baby’s eventual arrival.

Are You Experiencing Braxton Hicks Contractions and Real Labor Contractions? How Can You Tell The Difference?

Named after the scientist who first discovered them, Braxton Hicks contractions are typically painless and short, lasting only a minute or two. They can occur throughout your pregnancy, but typically strengthen in the last trimester. They tend to occur irregularly, and though uncomfortable, they shouldn’t drive you completely crazy.

Why do Women get Braxton Hicks Contractions During Pregnancy?

Though it may not seem like it, there is actually a reason why women get Braxton Hicks contractions during pregnancy. Even though they are not real labor pains, Braxton Hicks contractions are actually helping you to prepare for labor. Often called “practice contractions,” Braxton Hicks contractions help your uterus practice for your upcoming labor. They help to soften your cervix and exercise all the muscles that you will need to push your baby out. Without the help of Braxton Hicks contractions, labor would actually be much more difficult and painful.

When do Braxton Hicks Contractions Begin?

Typically, you should start experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions around your 28th week. This being said, early Braxton Hicks contractions can start during the second month in some women. You may find that you don’t even feel these contractions the first few times that they happen. If you were pregnant before, you may find that this time around your Braxton Hicks contractions are actually much stronger.

Braxton Hicks contractions really begin to come on in the third trimester. They also tend to get more intense the closer you draw to your due date.

How do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel?

Braxton Hicks contractions feel differently for each woman. Some find that they are not bothered by these contractions, while others feel very uncomfortable. Typically, Braxton Hicks contractions are described as causing more discomfort than pain. Frequent Braxton Hicks contractions can also be uncomfortable, but not painful. However, strong Braxton Hicks contractions can occur as you approach the end of the third trimester.

When you feel a Braxton Hicks contraction coming on, place your hand on your lower abdomen. Your stomach should feel rigid and hard because of the muscles that are tightening in your uterus. This should only last for a few minutes. You may feel some pain or discomfort in the center of your belly, which then radiates downwards.

What Triggers a Braxton Hicks Contraction?

Braxton Hicks contractions often start as a result of specific triggers. Common triggers include:

  • physical activity or exertion
  • sexual intercourse
  • dehydration
  • touching your abdomen
  • your baby moving inside your uterus

What’s the Difference between Braxton Hicks Contractions and Labor?

You may be worrying that you won’t know the difference between a Braxton Hicks contraction and the real thing; well, you are not alone. Many women worry about recognizing the real signs of labor. Keep these things in mind when you are unsure:

Also check out our fun due date calculator so that you can figure out when to expect your baby and watch for signs of real labor contractions!

  • Unlike real labor pains, Braxton Hicks won’t increase in intensity.
  • Labor pains will increase in frequency, occurring closer together. Braxton Hicks contractions will eventually go away on their own.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions tend to be irregular, with no precise pattern to them. Real labor pains will have a definite pattern.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions are not as painful as real labor pains.

Staying Comfortable with Braxton Hicks

Some women find that Braxton Hicks contractions are really uncomfortable. If your Braxton Hicks are bothering you, try some of these suggestions and also check out our article on pain medications for labor

if you think you might need some help dealing with the pain of real labor contractions.

  • Drink lots of water. Dehydration can make your muscles spasm, bringing on a contraction. Avoid caffeine.
  • Practice your labor breathing techniques. Rhythmic breathing will help to alleviate your discomfort.
  • Lie down on your left side when you have a contraction. This should help to ease the pain and keep you rested.
  • Change the position you are in or switch activities for a while when you have a contraction. A slight change in movement sometimes make the contractions disappear.
  • Urinate when you need to. A full bladder can sometimes trigger Braxton Hicks.

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