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Braxton Hicks – Braxton what??

pregnant woman sitting on bathtub

Our bodies are absolutely amazing.  Not only do we perform the miracle of life and grow an entire little human in our womb, and we have the massive job to deliver the tiny human too.  Our bodies change and prepare, by itself, for the final event – amazing.  While you might not be ready for your baby’s arrival just yet, your body has instinctively already started to prepare for the big day.  You will be reminded of this every time you feel your uterus tighten up.

Braxton Hicks are irregular and random contractions.  Often referred to as false labour pains.  Think of them as a dress rehearsal for your baby’s big debut. The fancy name came from Dr Braxton John Hicks who first described them in 1872. Braxton Hicks are often thought of as warm up exercises for your uterus in preparation for labour so even though they might be uncomfortable at times, they are most definitely a good thing.

You will start to notice Braxton Hicks around 20 weeks or so and increase in frequency and strength as your pregnancy progresses all the way until real labour starts– Some women have then many times a day and some don’t feel them at all. Your baby bump might tighten up, become hard, then go back to normal. The sensation, which might resemble menstrual cramps, usually lasts between 15 – 30 seconds and up to two minutes. 

What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

They are caused when the muscle fibers in your uterus tighten and relax.  Your pregnancy hormones are hard at work.  They send messages to your body to start the labour process (very slowly).  It is best to call your doctor if you’re in a lot of pain or see any kind of unusual vaginal discharge.

Braxton Hicks vs. real labour contractions

The purpose of real labour contractions is to thin and dilate the cervix, whereas Braxton Hicks contractions are just practice for the real thing.

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular, random and infrequent. The sensation, which might resemble mild menstrual cramps, usually lasts between 15 – 30 seconds and up to two minutes.  And they will get better as soon as you stand up or change positions.

If your contractions are increasing in intensity and frequency and you notice more than four in an hour, it’s “go” time and you may be in true labour.  Call your doctor right away or go to the hospital (especially if you aren’t yet 39 weeks pregnant) 

Real labour contractions are quite regular and grow stronger and stronger as time goes on.  Longer and closer together as you near labour. They usually last about 30 to 70 seconds each, and they don’t ease with a change position.  It’s time to grab your hospital bag when real contractions start. Real contractions may also be accompanied other labour signs such as your water breaking, losing the mucous plug or bloody show.

How are Braxton Hicks contractions treated?

There is no treatment for Braxton Hicks contractions. But there are things you can do to ease them, such as:

  • Changing position or stand up
  • Put your feet up and lay down if you’ve been very active
  • Go for a walk if you’ve been sitting down for a long time
  • Relax in a warm bath or have a nap
  • Drink allot or water – Stay hydrated
  • Use this opportunity to practice your breathing techniques for real labour

Other Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy

Sharp, achy and crampy shooting pains on the sides of your belly are called round ligament pain (more info available on what to expect’ s website here).  Your uterus is supported by thick bands of ligaments that run from the groin up the side of the abdomen. As your uterus grows, the supporting ligaments stretch and thin out to accommodate the increasing weight.  Think of them as growing pains.

Round ligament pain tends to happen with movement, like standing up, rolling over, coughing, sneezing, or even urinating.  It typically lasts only a few seconds or minutes.

To help ease round ligament pain:

  • Change your position or activity. It might help to lie on your opposite side.
  • Support your belly when you stand or roll over. Move more slowly.
  • Try to rest. A hot bath or heating pad may help.
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