Braxton Hicks contractions are quite common in pregnancy. Braxton Hicks may also be referred to as prodromal labor, practice contractions, or false labor. They are named after John Braxton Hicks around 1872 (for the history buffs). He was an English doctor who described the contractions that occur before real labor.
Sporadic uterine contractions sometimes start as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. They usually appear more often during the second trimester or third trimester. The muscles of the uterus tighten for approximately 30 to 60 seconds. These spasms can last as long as two minutes.
Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes referred to as “practice contractions” for the real thing. Some doctors and midwives believe Braxton Hicks contractions tone uterine muscles and increase blood flow to the placenta. They may also soften your cervix.
Braxton Hicks contractions may be triggered by:
- High activity of mother, baby or both
- Touching mother’s tummy
- A full bladder
- Mother engaged in sex
Here are a few signs you may be experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions –
- They are irregular in intensity.
- They occur infrequently
- They are not predictable.
- They do not have a regular rhythm.
- They are usually more uncomfortable than painful.
- They do not increase in intensity or frequency over time.
- They taper off and then disappear.
- If your contractions ease up in any way, they are most likely not real labor.
If you are in real labor, you will experience these signs:
- Your contractions will get stronger instead of easing up
- Even when you change position, your contractions don’t go away.
- Your contraction pain starts in your lower back and moves to your lower abdomen, and possibly to your legs.
If Braxton Hicks contractions are uncomfortable, you can try the following to ease them –
- Change positions. If you’ve been standing, try lying down. If you’ve been sitting, try lying down or walking or standing and stretching
- Gentle exercise is often a great way to alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions. Yoga or hydrotherapy can be effective.
- Try a warm—not hot—half-hour bath
- Drink water
- Have a cup of herbal tea. Peppermint or chamomiles are particularly soothing.
- Try a glass of warm milk.
If they keep happening and the above ideas don’t work for you, discuss what else you can do with your GP or Obstetrician.
In summary, Braxton Hicks are harmless and normal but if you have contractions that increase in intensity and dont go away when you change position, you may be experiencing real labour pains.
The above information doesn’t take the place of a medical consultation so please seek further advice if your symptoms continue to concern you.