Everything you need to know about Braxton Hicks

Are you expecting for the first time? If yes, then you surely must be wondering what Braxton hicks is and whether or not you should be concerned about it. The medical language uses the term ‘sporadic contractions’ to describe Braxton hicks and the condition includes a relaxation of your uterine muscle. Most healthcare professionals refer to it as false labor or prodromal pains.

In most cases, it develops at the sixth week of gestation but expectant women do not feel these till they have entered the 2nd or 3rd trimester of their pregnancy. In simple words, we can describe this condition as nature’s way of preparing women for their upcoming “true labor” but one cannot refer to them as the actual initiation of labor or an indication of when it is going to start.

What are Braxton Hicks

Braxton hicks contractions are a normal occurrence during the course of one’s pregnancy. For most women, it is surely an uncomfortable feeling but not a painful one. In fact, many women describe this condition similar to those like mild menstrual cramps. For others, Braxton hicks contractions feel like a tightening in some certain part of their abdomen.

Like real contractions, these milder false versions come and go at intervals. We can differentiate the false contractions from the real ones in terms of irregularity in intensity and duration. They have a non-rhythmic pattern, are unpredictable yet occur frequently. For most women, the Braxton hicks contractions are not really painful but more uncomfortable in nature.

The Braxton hicks condition differs from the true contractions in intensity, duration and frequency because the latter tends to increase in all three with time. The typical characteristics of Braxton hicks include lessening and disappearing with time and then resurfacing at a later point.

The only pattern one can predictably note is that as a woman nears the end of her pregnancy, she will most likely experience Braxton hicks contractions more strongly and frequently. This is perhaps why it is all too common for women to mistake Braxton hicks for true labor contractions as their term nears the end.

The most important thing to note is that Braxton hicks contractions cannot cause the cervix to dilate like the real ones do. Braxton hicks also does not initiate the birthing process.

Braxton Hicks Contractions- What they look like

When Braxton Hicks occurs in pregnant women, it most commonly feels like a tightening of their pregnant bellies. Women describe it as a condition that comes and goes while others find it similar to menstrual cramps but milder ones. They will not cause dilation, labor, or pain in most cases, but there is some discomfort for sure.

Many women describe their personal experience of Braxton hicks contractions like a mild stitch, which disappears almost as soon as it comes. These false contractions are not powerful but the women feel very much aware of it happening. Only when a woman goes into real labor does she realize that Braxton hicks is truly a far cry from the excruciating labor pains.

Here are some differentiating characteristics of Braxton hicks’ contractions:

  • They do not intensify
  • They don’t last for longer as they go on
  • One only feels them in the belly
  • You can stop them by changing positions or activities
  • These contractions do not get closer
  • It won’t cause pain
  • They can’t set a rhythmic pattern
  • It tend to cease and disappear

In most cases of pregnancy, Braxton hicks can occur as soon as the second trimester but most commonly during the third one. This is an entirely normal occurrence and there is no cause for concern for the expectant women.

Braxton Hicks- What can trigger these

While Braxton hicks contractions are a normal occurrence, certain things can still trigger these off. They include:

  • mother indulges in a certain kind of activity, such as intimacy or lifting something
  • fetus moves
  • any illness resulting in vomiting or even nausea
  • For most women, the most common trigger of Braxton hicks is dehydration

Braxton Hicks Contractions- How women can treat them

False contractions are a normal part of pregnancy and there is treatment as such. However, pregnant women can ease this condition in a few ways. These include:

  • Drinking enough water to rehydrate
  • Doing something to relax, such as taking a nap, a light massage or a soothing warm bath
  • If the false contractions occur after long hours of sitting, a walk might help ease them
  • If the tightening begins as a result of indulging in some activity, then lying down might help ease the condition
  • A switch in the position might help too

How do the Real Contractions Differ

For first-time mothers who want to know what are Braxton hicks and how they differ from real labor, here are the key differences to remember:

  • Labor contractions are longer and they strengthen with time quite noticeably
  • Are more predictable and have a regular rhythm
  • Intensify as they come
  • They become more frequent
  • Are extremely painful

One important thing to remember is that initially, it will be easy to tell Braxton hicks apart from the real labor. But as women grow closer to their term end, the false contractions can form a pattern, and may even occur quite frequently. During this time, the Braxton hicks contractions may even feel more intense than they did earlier on and this would make it easy to mistake them for the start of the real labor pains.

For first time mothers-to-be, when the situation feels too confusing to tell apart, it would be helpful to remember that false labor will not cause your cervix (entrance to your womb) to dilate or open.

Final Thoughts

Braxton hicks are what we popularly refer to as false contractions. These typically occur when a woman enters the third trimester of her pregnancy but for many, the false contractions can even happen during the second trimester.

In most cases, these contractions are more of an uncomfortable tightening of the belly but not really painful. In cases where expectant women are unsure whether the contractions are real or false or need any advice, it is always best to reach out to their maternity unit or midwife. Also, for women who are less than thirty-seven weeks pregnant, it is best to seek medical guidance when the tightening continues.

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