Pregnancy is a time of hope, happiness and anticipation. The maternal body is subjected to several demands, due to the rapid growth of the fertilized ovum, and these demands are met by certain changes that the body undergoes. Sometimes, some of these changes may cause apprehension for the mother, and may be a cause of worry. One such event is “Braxton Hicks Contractions” otherwise known as “False Labour Pains”.
In this article, we will address what, why, when, how and everything in between, about Braxton Hicks Contractions.
- What are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
- Why do Braxton Hicks Contractions occur?
- When do Braxton Hicks contractions happen?
- What does Braxton-Hicks Contractions feel like?
- What are the differences between Braxton Hicks Contractions and True Labour Pains?
- What are the danger signs of Braxton Hicks Contractions that you should look out for?
- What are the measures to alleviate Braxton Hicks Contractions?
What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
From the beginning of pregnancy, the uterus undergoes irregular contractions. These are known as “Braxton Hicks Contractions” (named after John Braxton Hicks).
Essentially, Braxton Hicks Contractions are the body’s way of bracing itself for the ultimate event, ie, childbirth. The process is comparable to a rehearsal, where the body prepares itself, by toning the muscles of the uterus and improving blood flow to the placenta. Although there is no conclusive evidence of its significance on the cervix, it is thought to help prepare the cervix for delivery, by softening and thinning it (effacement). These are not productive contractions.
Sometimes, these contractions may greatly resemble labour pains, and an inexperienced, new mother, may be easily misguided into perceiving these are True Labour Pains.
Why Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Occur?
The exact cause of Braxton Hicks Contraction, remains unknown. However, many possible causes or triggers for its incidence have been speculated. Some of these are:
- Dehydration: It is believed to be the most important trigger for Braxton Hicks Contractions. It is recommended that pregnant women need to consume at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, to stay hydrated.
- Increased Physical Activity: Sometimes Braxton Hicks Contractions may be triggered by a bout of strenuous exercise, or any other demanding physical activity.
- Increased Fetal Movements
- Sexual Intercourse: An orgasm after sexual intercourse, leads to oxytocin release and subsequent contraction of uterine muscles.
- Fullness of Bladder.
When Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Occur?
Braxton Hicks contractions may start early in pregnancy, but most women notice it only in their second or third trimesters (mostly from 20 weeks of pregnancy). They become more prominent only in the later stages.
With the progression of pregnancy, the rhythm and frequency of these contractions change too. What starts out as sporadic and irregular, becomes more synchronized and rhythmic during the last few weeks. At 30 weeks, these may last between 30 seconds and two minutes, and may even mimic True Labour pain.
What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?
Braxton Hicks Contractions typically feel like an uncomfortable, painless, “general tightening” or “squeezing” of the lower abdominal area and uterus, which is followed by a period of relaxation, before the next contraction begins. This may sometimes resemble mild menstrual cramps.
What are the differences between Braxton Hicks Contractions and True Labour Pains?
|CHARACTERISTICS||BRAXTON HICKS CONTRACTIONS||TRUE LABOUR PAIN|
|ONSET||Early on, but perceived mostly during 2nd or 3rd trimesters.||Mostly around 37 weeks, may be earlier in case of preterm labour.|
|TYPE||Usually a painless discomfort.||Strong tightening, and painful cramps|
|PROGRESSION||Do not progressively get stronger||Progressively becomes worse with time|
|LOCATION||Front of abdomen and extends downwards||Starts at the back and wraps around the abdomen|
|DURATION||30 second to 2 minutes||30-70 seconds, increases over time|
|ASSOCIATED WITH||Not associated with any other signs.||May be associated with other signs of labour, ie pinkish discharge, bloody show, water break etc.|
|RHYTHMICITY||Irregular||Regular and Rhythmic- becomes longer and stronger over time.|
|CESSATION||May subside and eventually end with proper management such as hydration, emptying the bladder, rest etc.||Ends in childbirth|
What are the danger signs of Braxton Hicks Contractions that you should look out for?
Braxton Hicks contractions are mostly harmless, and do not cause any distress for the baby. However, it is important to watch out for certain changes in the nature of these contractions, as these may point to Preterm Labour. Some of these signs are:
- If it is earlier than 37 weeks but the contractions are increasing in frequency, duration and are more painful.
- Increasing vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, or spotting
- Increasing lower back pain or pelvic pressure
- More than four contractions per hour
- Menstruation-like lower abdominal cramps or abdominal pain.
- Not being able to perceive fetal movements at least 6-10 times an hour.
What Are The Measures To Alleviate The Discomfort Of Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Braxton hicks Contractions are harmless and usually go away on their own, aftera short duration. Until then, the following measures can be followed to ease the discomfort:
- Drinking plenty of water to combat dehydration, if present.
- Lying down on one’s left side: this may promote the blood flow to the uterus, kidneys, and placenta.
- Changing Positions: A change of position from standing or sitting to lying down or vice versa, may bring some relief.
- Relaxation and Taking a deep breath.
Sometimes, despite all these measures, Braxton Hicks Contractions may occur very frequently. In such cases, it would be ideal to contact an Obstetrician, to rule out the possibility of having an “Irritable Uterus”.
Although sometimes worrisome, Braxton Hicks Contractions are nothing but harmless contractions of the uterus, which is preparing itself for the event of childbirth. It is a painless discomfort that would cease on its own, but it is essential to be wary of other symptoms which may indicate preterm labour.