Imagine constantly thinking “This must be it. I’m going to meet my baby,” only to find out that you’re not actually in labor. Instead, you are experiencing irregular practice contractions, or what is commonly referred to as Braxton Hicks contractions.
Like labor contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions are intermittent contractions of the uterus that occur during pregnancy. These contractions are not as strong or as consistent as labor contractions, and though uncommon, Braxton Hicks contractions can occur as early as the second trimester of pregnancy. Because these contractions are most common during the third trimester of pregnancy, they are often confused with labor contractions.
However, Braxton Hicks contractions are in no way labor contractions, so it’s important to understand just what they are before jumping the gun and heading to the hospital.
What’s interesting to note is that every pregnant person will experience Braxton Hicks contractions, but not everyone will feel them. So, how do you know if the contractions you are experiencing are in fact Braxton Hicks contractions and not labor contractions? Read further to find out.
What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?
At first, Braxton Hicks contractions will feel like painless tightening that begins at the top of your uterine muscles and spreads downwards. During these contractions, your abdomen will become very tight and awkwardly contorted, and once you near your due date, they will occur more frequently.
Each tightening sensation will usually last for about 30 seconds. It will likely cause some added discomfort to your already pregnant body. You may feel this tightening sensation a few times per hour and then it may subside. Or, as mentioned above, you may not even be aware that these contractions are happening at all. However, the bigger your uterus gets, the more you'll notice the tightening sensation when it happens.
Are Braxton Hicks Contractions Dangerous?
If you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, don’t be alarmed. These contractions are not dangerous, but rather a normal part of a healthy pregnancy. More specifically, some women will experience these contractions in earlier pregnancy, so as long as they are not regular and painful, there is no need to worry.
Braxton Hicks contractions have some primary functions. They can lead to the increase in uterine blood flow, directly transferring oxygen to the fetus. Later in pregnancy, they play a part in moving the baby’s head down into the pelvis in preparation for labor.
Braxton Hicks Contractions vs. Labor Contractions
The main difference between labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions is that one set of contractions brings forth labor whereas the other set does not. True labor contractions should become longer, stronger and closer together. If you are experiencing irregular contractions, then you are likely not in labor, but rather experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions.
Braxton Hicks contractions are typically not painful and do not grow more painful with each contraction. They usually stay weak, or start strong and grow weaker. Moreover, Braxton Hicks contractions will likely stop when you change positions. True labor contractions, on the other hand, grow more painful, they will not stop when you change movement, and they often intensify when you walk.
Some more direct differences between Braxton Hicks contractions and labor contractions are listed below:
Braxton Hicks Contractions
- These contractions continue to be unpredictable and non-rhythmic
- These contractions usually don’t last longer than a minute
- If these contractions are regular, they only stay that way for a short period of time
- These contractions are noticeably and increasingly longer
- These contractions occur regularly
- These contractions occur frequently
- These contractions are more painful than Braxton Hicks and generally grow more painful as the time progresses
When to Call Your Doctor or Midwife
Above all, if you have yet to hit the 37-week mark, your contractions will more likely be Braxton Hicks rather than labor contractions. If you are passed 37 weeks and, along with painful contractions, have lost your mucus plug or are experiencing vaginal spotting, your contractions are likely labor associated. In this case, you should consult with your medical practitioner for further advice.
It is also important to note that if anything feels unusual, get in touch with your doctor or midwife as soon as possible, especially if you're in a lot of pain or see any kind of abnormal vaginal discharge.
Coping with Braxton Hicks Contractions
Though pregnancy can be one of the most incredible experiences you’ll endure, Braxton Hicks contractions can be pretty daunting, especially if you’re nearing labor and wanting to meet your baby.
So, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, be patient. Here are some helpful tips on how to cope with Braxton Hicks contractions:
7 Know Your Triggers
Although Braxton Hicks contractions occur naturally, some pregnant women find them to be triggered by the following:
- An overly active mother
- An overly active baby
- Too much human interaction with the mother’s stomach
- Sexual intercourse
Knowing these triggers will not necessarily prevent Braxton Hicks contractions from happening. However, taking more precautions, especially in your third trimester, can help you recognize a Braxton Hicks contraction when it comes.
Naturally, pregnancy will put your body through an immense amount of stress, so it’s important to take some time to relax. If you’re nearing labor and you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, give yourself a break. Getting a massage, taking a bath, or getting some much-needed sleep will not only relax your body, but it can also soothe your contractions. Besides, you deserve it. You and your pregnant body have come a long way in just a short period of time.
Therapeutic exercises can bring further relaxation. They are:
- Rebozo sifting: encourages deep relaxation of the mind and body
- Forward-leaning inversion: gives room in the lower uterine segment
- Sidelying Release: gives room in the pelvis and softens the pelvic floor
- Standing Sacral Release: allows sacrum and sacral ligaments room for mobility and expansion
5 Pay Attention to Your Posture
Pregnancy can certainly interfere with your posture, so it’s important to pay attention to your positioning at all times. Sitting hunched over could actually make your Braxton Hicks contractions more uncomfortable. Why? Along with your uterus contracting, poor posture can compress your breastbone and diaphragm, causing discomfort and pain.
To ease the stress on your body when experiencing these contractions, try to maintain an erect posture when sitting or standing; that means your back is straight, your head and chin are in line with your shoulders, and your chest is lifted. You can also perform pelvic tilts. These will not only assist with perfecting your posture but they have proven to relieve any stressed or tense muscles in your lower back area.
4 Lie on Your Left Side
Though Braxton Hicks contractions are not labor contractions, they are still contractions, and can, therefore, be uncomfortable to go through. To help alleviate this annoyance, try not to lie on your right side.
Instead, gently lie down on your left side to avoid compressing your venae cavae; these are veins that travel along the spine and transports blood from the lower extremities of the body to the posterior region of your right side. The venae cavae can be very sensitive, so putting extra strain on it could possibly bring forth some extra, unnecessary pain.
3 Take a Walk
If your Braxton Hicks contractions are making you feel more uncomfortable than usual, a gentle movement like going outside for a walk can often make them go away. Moreover, walking around outside can help to not only remove some added tension brought on by your Braxton Hicks contractions, but the fresh air will likely lift your spirits.
Though walking can definitely help ease the pain brought on by Braxton Hicks contractions, it is important to remember that you should be wearing the proper footwear for walking. Because there’s no such thing as maternity shoes, look for a shoe that is both comfortable and supportive so that walking time is therapeutic, rather than being another painful pregnancy annoyance.
2 Hydrate Yourself
While it is not scientifically proven that dehydration can lead to Braxton Hicks contractions, it can, in fact, cause premature contractions of some sort. In other words, dehydration can make you contract. These contractions are likely not labor contractions, but rather a sign of “false labor” or Braxton Hicks contractions.
Dehydration is never a good sign, especially for pregnant women. In fact, pregnant women carry approximately 50% more fluid volume so it’s important to stay hydrated, especially if your nearing labor. Drinking 10 glasses of water each day is ideal for moderately active moms. However, if it’s hot outside, or if you’ve been exercising quite frequently, you’ll need a little extra.
Meditation is the art of silencing the mind. If your Braxton Hicks contractions are causing discomfort, deep breathing and meditation can surely help. Don’t believe us? During meditation, awareness is focused on thoughts and breathing, removing any distractions from the outside world. Being conscious of breathing automatically organizes the thinking process and thus relaxes the mind, body and soul entirely.
New to meditation? Follow these tips to help make the most of your practice:
- Close your eyes. Relax. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping your mouth soft and slightly open.
- Take a deep breath at the beginning of the contraction, relax, and then let go of any tension on your exhale. Repeat.
- Concentrate as hard as you can on your breathing. Breathe in as the contraction builds up, and breath out as it fades away.
- Maintain your rhythm. Don't worry about how loud you're breathing, or for how long. Just make sure that the in-breath is longer than the out-breath.
This rhythmic meditation will not only help to conserve your energy but it will also assist in easing any discomfort brought on by Braxton Hicks contractions.
Though Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy, they can certainly cause some unnecessary discomfort, worry and stress, especially if it’s your first pregnancy. However, when it comes to Braxton Hicks contractions, remain positive and stay in control as best as you can.
Educate yourself across all pregnancy spectrums so you know what to expect. It will make it easier to cope with these little annoyances from Mother Nature. Look on the bright side: experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions is your body’s way of telling you that everything is going as planned. So, sit tight. Your baby’s arrival is just around the corner.