Braxton Hicks contractions are mild, uterine contractions that occur well before labor actually begins -- they can start as early as the second trimester, although not normally until the third trimester. They received their name from Dr. John Braxton Hicks who, in 1872, first made the effort to explain these pre-labor contractions. Understanding the difference between Braxton Hicks and labor contractions, how to ease their pain, and when you should be concerned, make it will help you stay calm when you start contracting too early.
Braxton Hicks Contractions Versus Labor Contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions are essentially a form of muscle practice for the uterus. While they can cause some discomfort, they’re different from true labor because they don’t cause cervical changes or dilation. While typically painless, they can be uncomfortable -- not to mention annoying and worrisome if you don’t know what they are.
Braxton Hicks also differ from true labor contractions because they’re irregular. Additionally, they tend to start, quickly become less intense, and then stop for a significant period of time -- days or even weeks. True labor contractions intensify over time, growing steadily more painful and more regular, appearing closer together in timing (i.e. every ten minutes, then every five minutes).
While it’s true that Braxton Hicks contractions don’t cause your body to go into labor, they may become more frequent or uncomfortable as your due date gets closer. This increasing intensity of Braxton Hicks may be called “false labor” and can aid in the dilation and effacement of the cervix.
What Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like
Braxton Hicks contractions usually don’t hurt significantly. The uterus contracts, which can make it feel as though your abdomen is becoming tighten. They’re usually irregular in appearance and feel rather weak. Many women liken them to mild menstrual cramps that come and go from time to time. If you don’t experience Braxton Hicks, there’s no reason to worry -- many women go on to perfectly healthy labor and delivery without any practice contractions.
How to Ease Braxton Hicks Contractions
Despite the significantly less painful nature of Braxton Hicks contractions, they can still be tedious and unpleasant. To relieve Braxton Hicks, try a gentle walk around the house or office. Conversely, sitting down and taking a few minutes rest may also ease Braxton Hicks. Since dehydration can make false contractions worse, make sure to drink plenty of fluids -- a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of water. Eventually, they should go away. They shouldn’t last more than about 2 minutes, shouldn’t become progressively longer, and shouldn’t get continually stronger.
When to Call a Doctor
Generally, the appearance of Braxton Hicks contractions (even if you’ve never experienced them before) is no cause for worry. However, if you’ve been having Braxton Hicks contractions that suddenly become regular (appearing every set amount of minutes) and/or significantly more painful than before, give your obstetrician or midwife a call. If you notice any bleeding or your water breaks, this also merits a call to the doctor -- and most obstetricians recommend heading straight to hospital if your water breaks.