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Braxton Hicks

Braxton Hicks
What are Braxton Hicks?
Braxton Hicks are contractions. Sometimes they are referred to as ‘false’ contractions, but in fact they are no different from labour contractions other than in pattern and intensity. They are noticeable usually from around 24 weeks and can occur before this point but are less intense and often go unnoticed. They are most intense during the third trimester. As with other pregnancy symptoms, Braxton Hicks are different for each woman and each pregnancy; some women won’t experience them at all.

Many medical professionals will tell you that “you’ll know” when labour starts, and this is true. But for any mum, especially a first time mum, Braxton Hicks can leave you wondering (panicking) about what’s happening to your body. The term was coined in 1872 by an English doctor, John Braxton Hicks and some experts believe that they are your body’s way of preparing for childbirth. Braxton Hicks usually last around 30 seconds, although they have been known to last up to 2 minutes. They happen when the muscles of the uterus tighten for a short period of time and are believed to be a toning of the muscles, a uterus workout, in preparation for what’s to come.

What do they feel like?
Braxton Hicks can be uncomfortable, and for some extremely painful. If you feel your bump when experiencing them, you will notice it harden, like a football all the way around. This is different to a baby movement when a protruding limb will cause only part of your stomach to harden at one side. They can take your breath away, and even cause moments of panic, but they are perfectly natural. Sometimes, particularly later in pregnancy, you will have to stop what you are doing, or the pain might cause you to wince! However, the intensity shouldn’t be too much to bear, and you will be able to carry on with whatever you were doing once it has passed.

How long do they last and how often?
Typically, they last around 30 seconds and can happen a few times a day, less during earlier stages of pregnancy. They should occur no more than a couple of times an hour.

The difference between Braxton Hicks and labour
Lots of women worry whether they will be able to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and the onset of labour. So, to put your mind at ease and to answer the continually nagging; “is this it!”, we will set out the differences here.
Braxton Hicks can be very painful on occasion but in comparison to labour pains, they are:

  • Less painful
  • Less intense
  • Shorter
  • Do not change in intensity
  • Do not follow a pattern, i.e. they are irregular

Of all the differences, the last is most significant. Labour pains will settle quickly into a pattern. They grow in intensity over the course of the contraction and generally last longer than 30 seconds. If you notice a pattern and an increase in pain during the course of the contraction, this is a more definite sign that you are in labour.

What can I do?
If you are experiencing painful Braxton Hicks, there are good tips to follow. Some experts believe that Braxton Hicks are worse if you are dehydrated, so drink plenty of water. Hydration is extremely important during pregnancy and will help with a whole array of pregnancy symptoms. Herbal tea can also relax, calm, and hydrate you. If you are in bed, try to move positions, or take a bath to relax. Further on in your pregnancy carrying heavy items such as bags, other children or shopping can bring on Braxton Hicks, so try (as far as possible) to limit these activities. Braxton Hicks can be a good excuse to practise some of your breathing techniques.

When should I be worried about Braxton Hicks?
There are instances where pre-term labour can be mistaken for Braxton Hicks. If you are experiencing a lot of pain before 37 weeks, look out for these other signs:

  • Changes in discharge – particularly watery discharge
  • Any sign of bleeding
  • Severe cramping in your lower abdomen of lower back
  • A regular pattern of contractions every few minutes

Pregnancy can be a worrying time. If you feel there have been changes in your baby’s movement, you are bleeding, or think your waters have broken, contact your consultant or midwife immediately. Child birth professionals understand your concerns and are always happy to put your mind at ease.

Overall, however, Braxton Hicks are a perfectly natural and normal part of pregnancy and a good indication that you and baby are doing well.

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