The first time I felt a Braxton Hicks contractions with my first pregnancy I was scared. I had a dozen questions. Are they normal? Should I be worried? Does this mean I’m going into labor soon? So, I called the doctor, worried sick, only to find out that these contractions are normal.
Most pregnant women will experience Braxton Hicks contractions throughout their second and third trimester. It’s worth gaining an understanding of what they are so that you can be prepared and not caught off guard when they start. If you aren’t suspecting them, as I wasn’t, then you might be taken aback.
Don’t worry. The most important thing to remember is that Braxton Hicks are normal.
The term Braxton Hicks might seem strange, but the name began in 1872 when an English doctor, John Braxton Hicks, detailed the contractions that a woman’s body uses to prepare for real labor.
The best way to describe them are that they’re similar to a practice contraction that words towards toning the uterus in preparation for real labor. Unlike labor contraction, Braxton Hicks don’t cause any changes to your cervix, so they won’t lead to premature labor.
Most doctors believe that these contractions are actually a good sign, showing that your uterus is strong and working to prepare for labor.
Braxton Hicks contractions can start in the second trimester, but they’re most common throughout the third. Some women note that they’re more common at night because you’ve had a long and busy day, but you can wake up with them as well.
What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Most doctors just consider Braxton Hicks a normal part of pregnancy. Your pregnancy hormones send a signal to your body to start the preparation for labor and delivery. Surprisingly, doctors don’t have any true scientific evidence to prove – or disprove – the belief that Braxton Hicks are meant to tone and strengthen your uterine muscles.
Did you know that your uterine muscles contract throughout other times in life aside from labor? These muscles also contract during your menstrual cycle each both and during sex. Braxton Hicks are just another normal uterine contraction with a purpose.
However, there are some things that can increase the likelihood of having a Braxton Hicks contraction, such as:
Sex leads to orgasms, or that’s the end goal at least. Sex and orgasms are a form of uterine contractions, so your body may decide it’s the perfect time to have a Braxton Hicks contraction. You might notice your uterus is tighter throughout the entire sexual intercourse. Some women also have contractions afterwards.
2. Fetal Movement
Believe it or not, fetal movements can trigger Braxton Hicks. You might feel as if your baby sent you a swift kick to the side. A lot of activity or a large, surprised movement might be a trigger for some women.
Dehydration is a common cause of Braxton Hicks contractions. The part of your brain that instructs your uterus to contract is also the same part of your brain that lets you know that you’re thirsty.
So, if you’re dehydrated, this part of the brain activates, leading to contractions because your body is very thirsty. Also, don’t forget that muscle cramps, which are more common during pregnancy, also increase when you’re dehydrated.
The moral is drink more water!
4. Urinary Tract Infections
UTIs are common during pregnancy, even if they’re frustrating and painful, and they happen to be a leading cause of Braxton Hicks contractions. In most cases, you need to take antibiotics to clear them up quickly.
5. Strenuous Exercise
If you’re hitting it hard at the gym, you might notice more of these contractions. Strenuous activity can lead to them, partly because you’re using more of your muscles and partly due to the excessive sweating.
Don’t take this as a hint not to exercise. Moderate exercising, so long as it’s approved by your doctor, is totally healthy throughout pregnancy. However, if you notice it more often than not, it may be a sign from your body to take it down lower and relax more.
Some women experience more Braxton Hicks with more pregnancies. During my fourth pregnancy, I had more Braxton Hicks, and some of them were quite painful and uncomfortable. Doctors sometimes call this an “irritable uterus,” which isn’t something most women want to hear. It seems like, for some women, their uterus likes to contract more as it prepares for labor.
What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?
Every woman describes what a Braxton Hicks contraction feels like a bit differently. For most women, they start off as a mild tightening throughout the front of your uterus. Your stomach will feel tight and uncomfortable. Most of these uterine contractions are irregular, lasting around 30 to 60 seconds at a time. Some women say that their belly is contorted during them!
When compared to menstrual cramps, Braxton Hicks contractions are higher up in your stomach rather than down low. I always felt like my belly was as hard as a rock – like abs of steel but not in a good way because it’s uncomfortable. At times, they can be confused with the baby, thinking your baby has turned his butt and is pushing outward.
Some lucky mothers don’t notice them at all! That’s right, they can be painless and go unnoticed, especially with first time moms. While some are combined with pelvic pressure, it’s important to remember all women are different so their experiences are different as well.
Are Braxton Hicks Contractions Dangerous?
You might be worried that having Braxton Hicks contractions might be dangerous or harmful for your baby, but don’t worry. Even though they can be uncomfortable and annoying, it’s a normal way for your body to start to prepare for labor and delivery. Labor is like a marathon, and you wouldn’t run a marathon without some training. Braxton Hicks are a way for your body to “train” for labor.
The Differences Between Braxton Hicks Contractions and Labor Contractions
The main difference between Braxton Hicks and real labor contractions is that they don’t come in any sort of pattern. They’re random, coming when they want and stopping at different points.
A few signs that you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions are:
Most women can quickly understand the differences between true labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions. True labor contractions don’t go away with time, rest, or fluids. They get stronger over time, increasing in duration, and getting closer together as the birth of the baby gets closer.
Braxton Hicks contractions, on the other hand, will slow down over time and eventually disappear. You might change positions, walk around the room, put your feet up, or drink a glass of water. Then, you realize the contractions are gone. These aren’t true labor contractions!
Braxton Hicks Contractions
Happen along the upper abdomen region
Never increase in length
Never get stronger
Won’t get closer together
Slows down with activity, rest, drinking, or eating
Doesn’t lead to any changes in the cervix
True Labor Contractions
Takes place in the lower abdomen and wraps around your body
Gets stronger over time
Increases in intensity and duration
Doesn’t stop with activity, rest, or eating.
Causes changes in the cervix
Some women say that they noticed more Braxton Hicks before they went into labor. There is the chance that what you’re feeling is part of early labor. If you experience any of these symptoms along with Braxton Hicks contractions, you might be in the early stages of labor.
8 Ways to Relieve Braxton Hicks Contractions
Since these aren’t true labor contractions, there are ways to relieve and stop Braxton Hicks contractions. Here are a few things to try.
1. Drink More Fluids
One of the main causes of Braxton Hicks contractions is dehydration, so it makes sense that you should first try to drink more fluids. Grab a big glass of cold water and sit down.
Pregnant women should aim to dry at least 96 ounces of water each day. If you’ve been outside during hot weather or were exercising, you do need to compensate and drink even more.
2. Go to Sleep
Getting some good sleep is one of the best ways to get your muscles to relax and get back into a peaceful stage. So, close the curtains and get comfortable in your bed. Nothing is better than some R&R.
Sleeping during pregnancy is tricky, especially in the third trimester. Lack of sleep can cause stress, mental and physical, so you might be noticing an increase in Braxton Hicks when you’re feel extra tired.
Sometimes, all you need is a bit of gentle movement to stop the contractions in their tracks. This doesn’t mean you need to power walk around the neighborhood. Walk around your house or go outside and walk around the garden. If walking does nothing to change them, it might be a sign that these contractions are the real deal!
I most often got Braxton Hicks when I was doing too much, whether that was at work or around the house. It can be a sign that you’re doing too much and you need to slow it down. Exercise and movement is a good thing, but a woman’s body can only handle so much.
So, if you’ve been busy throughout the day, take the time to sit down and put your feet up. You have a great excuse for a Netflix and binge session. Take a nice, warm bath, or listen to some relaxing music. Have a cup of hot tea and read a book. There are so many ways to relax and rest, and doing so will help to relieve the discomfort of these contractions.
5. Change Positions
Are you sitting in the recliner and noticing your uterus tightening? Try moving your position or walking to the bathroom and back. Come on, you probably have to go pee anyway. Changing positions was one of the easiest ways for me to get rid of Braxton Hicks.
6. Take a Magnesium Supplement
Many people are magnesium deficient and they have no idea! Pregnancy increases your body’s need for magnesium, and a deficiency can cause muscle spasms. Your uterus is a muscle! So, if you want to decrease your Braxton Hicks, try taking a magnesium supplement. You could also use magnesium oil or add some epsom salt to your bath waters.
7. Empty Your Bladder
I noticed that a full bladder almost always increased the number of Braxton Hicks contractions I experienced. A fully bladder puts more pressure on the uterus, and a uterus under pressure can contract if it’s feeling like it. So, head to the bathroom (changing positions and walking) to see if it helps the problem.
8. Just Breathe
Inhale slowly, just like you do in a yoga class. Slow, deliberate breathing helps us slow down and relax. Focusing on your proper breathing can help loosen up the tightened sensations in your body. These intentional breathings are a way to help you calm down and release any tension you’re harboring in your body.
When Should You Call The Doctor
In most cases, Braxton Hicks are normal, but there might be times when you need to call the doctor. Most notably, if these contractions start to intensify and get more frequent, it could be a sign that these are true labor contractions. This is a good time to give your midwife or OBGYN a call and let them know what’s going on especially if you aren’t full term yet!
However, most moms never need to call the doctor for Braxton Hicks contractions. They’re annoying and uncomfortable at times, but they’re normal and something all women will experience a time or two.
Do you have any stories to share about Braxton Hicks contractions? Let us know in the comments!