During the final stages of pregnancy, any form of contraction feels like an alarm that could mean you are in labor. However, some contractions simply signal a false alarm. Well, they are called the Braxton Hicks contractions. What happens is that the muscles in the uterus usually tighten for about 30-60 seconds and this can extend up to 2 minutes.
Because they mostly occur during the 3rd trimester when you are about to pop, Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes referred to as the “practice contractions”. They help you to prepare for the real deal, giving you an opportunity to practice breathing techniques which are vital during labor.
What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?
When you have this kind of contractions, you will feel the lower abdominal area, uterus, and sometimes the groin squeeze or tighten and then relax. Other symptoms include:
- Infrequent contractions with irregular intensity i.e. non-rhythmic and unpredictable
- Less painful contractions that are uncomfortable
- The contractions don’t increase in terms of frequency or intensity
- They will taper off and thereafter just disappear
- Increased vaginal discharge including spotting or bleeding
In case you have contractions that feel this way, you could be having Braxton Hicks.
Possible Causes of Braxton Hicks Contractions
Physicians believe that they are caused by the uterine muscles when they undergo toning. The toning of the muscles is vital for promoting blood flow to the placenta. Although Braxton Hicks may not dilate the cervix, it may make it soft.
What Can Trigger Braxton Hicks
These contractions are signs of false labor and they may be triggered by the following factors:
- When someone touches the tummy
- When both baby and mother are very active
- A full bladder
- Intense sex
How Serious Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
They are usually weak and disappear on their own. With Braxton Hicks, you won’t experience an increase in the intensity of the contractions. Alternatively, they could begin as strong contractions which then grow weak.
What Can I do to Ease the Contractions?
Although these contractions aren’t painful, they can make feel very uncomfortable. To alleviate the discomfort that is caused by Braxton Hicks:
- Change positions. If you are standing or sitting, try to lie down or take a walk. Note that true labor pains usually progress and persist no matter what you try to do.
- Increase your water intake because these contractions could have been brought by extreme dehydration.
- Take a warm bath.
- Drink a warm cup of milk or your favorite herbal tea.
- Engage in relaxation exercises such as yoga which will help you take slow and deep breaths.
There is no specified treatment for Braxton Hicks. Generally, the contractions tend to go away after you change your activity. Go to the washrooms frequently to ensure that your bladder is empty most of the times. Take a rest if you have been engaging in intense physical activity or go for a moderate workout if you have been resting.
Although the above-mentioned techniques may not fully ease the discomfort that’s caused by Braxton Hicks, they can help you cope.
Effects to the Baby
These contractions are supposed to increase blood flow to the placenta. However, there are speculations that the contractions usually cause temporary reduction of blood flow to the placenta but this doesn’t affect blood flow to the fetus’ heart.
Difference between Braxton Hicks and Labor Contractions
During the last few weeks or days before childbirth, Braxton Hicks contractions may fool you into thinking that you are in labor. They may become more painful, relatively close together, and even more rhythmic. However, all these mean that you are just in false labor and there’s no need to worry. Unlike the true labor, Braxton Hicks contractions don’t get closer together, stronger, and they don’t last for so long. They may happen at any time but most expectant moms usually notice them during the night when the bladder is full, the body is dehydrated or after sex.
When should I Contact my Healthcare Provider?
If you have already reached the 37-week mark and you feel like the contractions are becoming more frequent, painful, and rhythmic, then you need to call your healthcare provider. Signs of preterm labor include:
- Regular contractions which come and go.
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding.
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Change in the form of discharge i.e. it becomes too watery, bloody/blood-tinged or looks like mucus.
- Increased pressure in the lower abdominal section and the pelvic area. It feels like the baby is trying to push down.
- Constant severe pain no matter what you do