Pregnancy Symptoms Week by Week
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Braxton Hicks Contractions (False Labor Contractions)

False Labor contractionsStarting in the second trimester and continuing until you go into real labor, you may experience an intermittent, painless tightening of your uterus. This is a Braxton Hicks contraction, also called pre-labor contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions are getting your body ready for the task of labor.

In the second trimester, it will be easy for you to distinguish Braxton Hicks contractions. They will occur sporadically (randomly). They may strike a few times one day, and you won’t feel them again for another week or two. Braxton Hicks contractions are typically painless earlier in pregnancy, but they can become increasingly uncomfortable – even painful – in the third trimester and as you approach your due date.

In the third trimester, a Braxton Hicks contraction can be quite painful and they can hurt. In the last few weeks of your pregnancy, Braxton Hicks contractions will get stronger and occur more frequently. You may even start to think that your Braxton Hicks contractions are the real deal.

There’s a huge difference between Braxton Hicks and true contractions – Braxton Hicks will not be regular. They will never get closer together as time passes. Braxton Hicks contractions are usually felt in the front; true contractions are felt all over.

What are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Named after John Braxton Hicks, an English physician who first described these pre-labor contractions in 1872, Braxton Hicks contractions are the sporadic tightening and relaxing of your uterine muscle.

These pre-labor contractions have been taking place in your womb since you were 6 weeks pregnant, but you never felt them. Most pregnant women become aware of Braxton Hicks around 20 weeks pregnant. (However, some women don’t notice these false contractions until much later in pregnancy.)

At first, Braxton Hicks contractions tend to come and go. They are typically irregular, don’t occur frequently, and are usually painless. (Some women do experience discomfort and pain from Braxton Hicks contractions.) As you approach your due date and Braxton Hicks contractions get more painful, it can be hard to distinguish them from signs of labor.

As a rule of thumb, if you haven’t hit 37 weeks pregnant, and you’re experiencing at least four contractions each other, give your doctor a call right away. This may be a sign that you’re in premature labor.

After 37 weeks of pregnancy, you are considered “full term,” which means that your baby might be born at any moment. Braxton Hicks contractions will occur more regular, and they can really hurt. Unlike earlier pre-labor contractions, these contractions may be helping your cervix “ripen” – they are starting to soften and tin out your cervix, and they might even contribute to dilation (opening up).

Braxton Hicks vs. Real Contractions

In the weeks or days before your due date, Braxton Hicks contractions can fool you into thinking you’re in labor. They will become more rhythmic, get relatively closer together, and they’ll start to pain. This is “false labor” if:

• Contractions don’t last longer
• Contractions don’t get stronger
• Contractions don’t get closer together with the time.

Always call your doctor right away if you experience more than four contractions in one hour. These contractions don’t have to hurt.

You should also call your OB or midwife if your contractions come with abdominal pain, any vaginal bleeding or spotting, menstrual-like cramping, a change in the type of vaginal discharge, any pelvic pressure (the feeling that your infant is pushing down), or low back pain.

How to Cope with Braxton Hicks Contractions

If you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions, sometimes changing your position or activity can give you some relief. For example, when a Braxton Hicks contraction starts, walking or resting may ease your discomfort.

On the other hand, if you’re having true contractions, you are going to have pain and discomfort no matter what you do. True labor contractions do not go away, regardless of what you do.

Some women get relief from their Braxton Hicks contractions by taking a warm bath. Not only will this help relax you and alleviate other pregnancy symptoms (such as leg cramps, back aches, and other aches and pains), but it can ease the discomfort of these false labor contractions.

Braxton Hicks contractions can be caused by dehydration, so make sure that you drink plenty of water during the day. Even drinking a glass or two of water can ease your discomfort in the middle of a false contraction.

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