Understanding Braxton Hicks or Practice Contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions are easily mistaken for real contractions.  Especially if you are a first time mom. They can be very concerning if you do not know the difference between real labor and Braxton Hicks.  Braxton Hicks contractions have been named fake contractions or practice contractions. Rightfully so because they are preparing your body for real labor.  The important thing to remember about Braxton Hicks contractions are that they are not real labor and they will not turn into real labor. They will not dilate your cervix, just soften your cervix in preparation for real labor. 

People will say to you when you are about to have a baby that you will “know” when you are in real labor.  That isn’t always the case. Braxton Hicks are commonly mistaken for real labor, and you could rush to the hospital thinking you are in real labor for your doctor to tell you false alarm.  Braxton Hicks contractions are when your uterus contracts for about thirty to sixty seconds then stops. They can sometimes last up to two minutes in length. The main difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions are that they do not happen in consistent intervals.  Meaning you could have ten minutes in between a Braxton Hicks contraction then the next one doesn’t come for twenty minutes, then twelve minutes and so forth. Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes described as feeling like mild menstrual cramps, that start in your lower abdomen and move to your lower back.  Almost feeling like a tightening is happening in your lower front abdomen. If you experience Braxton Hicks do not panic it is very common and they can start as early as the second trimester, though they are more common in the third trimester. There is no need to panic if you experience one. You can talk with your doctor at your next appointment to make sure they are normal and there isn’t anything more to worry about.  

Braxton Hicks contractions are usually triggered by something.  If mom is overactive it can lead to Braxton Hicks contractions, as well as if baby is overactive in the womb.  A full bladder can lead to them as well, and so can dehydration. Other things that could trigger Braxton Hicks contractions are after having sex, or someone else touching the mom’s belly.  Sometimes just stopping activity can ease the contractions or even just changing positions. Drinking water especially if dehydrated can help your body. You can also try relaxing, or taking apart of some relaxing activity, such as a warm bath, or drinking a warm tea or warm milk, sometimes stretching or breathing deeply can cause the Braxton Hicks contractions to retreat.  Along with drinking water, sometimes eating something can help alleviate the uncomfort.  

There is no need to panic, Braxton Hicks contractions are very common.  Not everyone will experience them, and some mothers say they feel them more in second or third pregnancies than they did with their first pregnancy.  There is no need to reach out to your doctor right away. There are some instances that you should reach out to your doctor if you are experiencing other things along with the Braxton Hicks contractions.  If you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions along with the following vaginal discharge, bleeding, spotting, lower back or pelvic pressure, more than four contractions an hour, or constant abdominal cramping reach out to your doctor.  There may be something else going on that may need to get checked out. Also if you feel the contractions happening more consistently, becoming closer together, and intensifying in pain call your doctor right away. If you are less than 37 weeks, and the contractions are becoming stronger call your doctor right away as well.  

Braxton Hicks contractions can be misdiagnosed as round ligament pain, which is also very common in pregnancy.  Round ligament pain is usually caused by movement that happens too quickly. It can be brought on by sneezing, or getting up too quickly.  It is described to feel like a sharp spasm in the lower abdomen, usually happening only on the right side of the abdomen but can happen on either side or both.  You can alleviate the pain by laying down on your side and pulling your knees up towards the chest. Round ligament pain happens usually in the second trimester.  After a few seconds your pain will subside. Since Braxton Hicks contractions and round ligament pain happen in the abdomen they can be very easily mistaken for each other.  Round ligament pain is nothing to be concerned about either, and will usually go away with changing positions or relaxing. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms if you have any question about which one of these you could be suffering from.

Braxton Hicks can also be mistaken for real labor.  There are some key differences that will help you determine if you are in real labor or just experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions.  When in real labor your contractions will come at normal intervals. Meaning that they will happen every 10 minutes, then go down to happening every 5 minutes.  But from the start of one to the start of the next the time between will be the same. Unlike Braxton Hicks which don’t have consistent intervals between contractions.  Real labor contractions will last between thirty to seventy seconds at a time and get stronger with each one. Your real labor contractions will not go away or subside with changing positions or trying to relax or rest.  The pain of a real contraction usually moves from your lower back around to the front of your abdomen. Where Braxton Hicks will most likely start in your abdomen, and my not even reach around to back pain. If the intensity of your contractions increases, and start getting closer together, call your doctor, you might think you were having Braxton Hicks contractions when really you are in real labor.  

Braxton Hicks contractions are not dangerous, and they are preparing your body for real labor.  There is no need to panic. If you are suffering from them try relaxing and try decreasing your activity level to reduce your uncomfort.  Talk with your doctor about these if you feel like you are experiencing them. Make sure you talk to your doctor if you are having any other symptoms with your Braxton Hicks in case they need to monitor you more closely.  But usually Braxton Hicks are nothing to worry about.  



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