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Braxton Hicks

Braxton Hicks are intermittent contractions of the uterus that some women experience during their pregnancy. They were first described by Dr. John Braxton Hicks in 1872, an English gynecologist, and are often referred to as practice labor because they are thought to help prepare your body for the real deal.

Some women have a lot of Braxton Hicks (particularly with second or subsequent pregnancies), while others report not feeling any. They may be short, barely noticeable and infrequent; or they may last for several minutes, stop you in your tracks, and occur several times an hour. Some women experience them from early in their pregnancy through to the end, while others donít feel any until just a couple of weeks before they go into real labor. However, most women notice Braxton Hicks contractions in the second half of their pregnancies, particularly in their third trimester. They generally last between 30 and 60 seconds and occur less than four times an hour. They often feel like a tightening of the front of your abdomen or pelvis, but you may not even know you are having one unless you place your hand on your belly and notice itís rigid and hard.

Real labor pains are different for every woman and even with each pregnancy; however, many describe them as being a dull ache in the lower abdomen and back with pelvic pressure, or like strong menstrual or diarrhea cramps.

Many doctors and midwives believe that Braxton Hicks may help tone your uterine muscles and promote blood flow to the placenta. And although true Braxton Hicks do not have any effect on your cervix, false labor (when they occur closer to actual delivery) can actually help your cervix dilate and efface.

Certain things can trigger Braxton Hicks, such as physical activity, touching your belly, movement of the baby, having sex, dehydration, or having a full bladder. If you are experiencing a lot of contractions, try changing positions or lying down on your left side, walking, and drinking water. If the contractions persist, call your doctor.

So how do you know when theyíre just Braxton Hicks and when itís time to head to the hospital?

Braxton Hicks:

  • are irregular in intensity
  • are irregular in pattern
  • are infrequent
  • do not increase in intensity or frequency
  • are more uncomfortable than painful
  • disappear if you change positions or activity level, or drink water

Real labor pains:

  • increase in intensity and frequency
  • have a pattern to them
  • do not lessen or disappear if you walk, drink water, or rest
  • are painful

Call your doctor if your contractions progress in intensity, frequency, and regularity or if you have other signs of labor such as abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, increased vaginal discharge, increased pelvic pressure, or low back pain.


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