As a woman reaches the end of her pregnancy, she often grows increasingly excited about meeting her new baby. However, Braxton Hicks contractions, named for the English doctor John Braxton Hicks who first identified them in 1872, often confuse the question of when the "big day" will finally arrive. They can send first-time and even experienced moms to the hospital, afraid they are experiencing preterm labor or that real labor has begun. A proper understanding of Braxton Hicks contractions can help you determine whether your contractions are the real thing or just the "practice contractions," preparing you for labor.
Braxton Hicks contractions, which can last from 15 seconds two minutes, help ready your uterus for childbirth. They may start as early as six weeks, but you won't usually start feeling them -- if you do at all -- until the second half of your pregnancy. Normally, Braxton Hicks contractions are painless and cause no changes to your cervix. Toward the end of your pregnancy, though, they may start becoming more uncomfortable and can make your cervix start to soften, thin and dilate. During a Braxton Hicks contraction, your belly may feel firm and contort into a strange, sometimes pointy, shape.
Pregnancy hormones, which are readying your body for labor, ultimately cause Braxton Hicks contractions. Because your body increases its preparations for childbirth as the end of your pregnancy approaches, most Braxton Hicks contractions occur in the third trimester, and the contractions become more intense and frequent the closer you get your baby's birthday. During this time, a number of things can trigger Braxton Hicks contractions, including dehydration, intercourse, touching your abdomen, a full bladder and too much activity by either you or your baby.
Distinguishing from Labor
Braxton Hicks contractions are mild contractions that occur irregularly. True labor contractions, in contrast, gradually become stronger, more frequent and closer together. Changing position can slow Braxton Hicks contractions but not true labor. Braxton Hicks contractions remain focused in the front of your belly, while true labor contractions begin in your abdomen and spread to your back, or begin in your back and spread to your abdomen. Telling the two apart can be difficult, especially late in a pregnancy when Braxton Hicks contractions may become more uncomfortable, so call your doctor or midwife if you experience any contractions that concern you.
To stop Braxton Hicks contractions, drink a glass or two of water, milk or herbal tea to reduce dehydration. Change your position. If the contractions started while you were resting, take a short walk. If you were active, sit or lie down for a while. Relax with a warm bath, but limit it to less than 30 minutes. Use the opportunity to practice the relaxation and breathing techniques you plan to use during labor. Call your doctor or midwife for advice if your efforts to slow your Braxton Hicks contractions aren't successful.
- American Pregnancy Association: Braxton Hicks Contractions; November 2006
- BabyCenter: Braxton Hicks Contractions; March 2008
- eMedTV: Braxton Hicks Contractions; Arthur Schoenstadt; September 2008
- What to Expect: Contractions During Pregnancy or Braxton Hicks Contractions
- What to Expect: No Braxton Hicks?
- Photo Credit Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images
How to Cope With Braxton Hicks Contractions
If you have been very active recently and start having Braxton Hicks contractions, ceasing your activity can help minimize your contractions. 4.
How to Identify Contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions (also called "practice contractions") are a common part of pregnancy for almost all women during the second and third...
Symptoms of Pregnancy at 8 Months
Unlike real contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions do not continue to intensify over time and will typically stop with a change ... He...
36 Weeks Pregnant Pain
Frequently occurring during week 36 of your pregnancy, Braxton-Hicks contractions are your body's effort to prepare your uterus for real contractions and...
How to Make Contractions Stronger
How to Cope With Braxton Hicks Contractions. Change your position. ... Thigh contractions are great exercises for strengthening your stomach muscles.
How to Ease Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy
See your gynecologist to determine the cause of abdominal discomfort with advice from ... some Braxton Hicks Contractions, which are practice pains...
How to Assess Contractions by Palpation
If you are pregnant and experiencing Braxton Hicks or pre-labor contractions, you can use uterine palpation to determine the relative strength of...
What Are the Causes of Premature Contractions in Pregnancy?
What Are the Causes of Premature Contractions in Pregnancy?. Pregnancy is an exciting, stressful and scary time in your life. ... What...
How to Time Contractions
How to Tell the Difference Between Braxton-Hicks and Real Contractions; Print this article; Things You'll Need. A stopwatch or watch with a...