03 October 2014

Braxton Hicks Contractions

When you feel your uterus tightening up, your body is gearing up for delivery. Irregular practice contractions can be first felt around mid-pregnancy and increase in frequency and strength as your pregnancy progresses.

How do you get to delivery? Practice, practice, practice. You might not be ready for the baby just yet (still haven't picked out that nursery color?), but your body is certainly gearing up for the big day – and you're reminded of this each time you feel your uterus tightening up.

What causes them?

Braxton Hicks contractions are a bit like a dress rehearsal: Your uterine muscles are flexing in preparation for the big job they'll have to do in the near future. Once again, your pregnancy hormones are hard at work, sending messages to your body to (very slowly) start the process of childbirth.

What you need to know

Braxton Hicks contractions can begin any time after week 20 of pregnancy, increasing through week 32 all the way until real labor starts. Many novice moms-to-be don't notice them as much (or even at all) or feel them as intensely as those who are pregnant for the second time – but even first-timers are aware of them occasionally. They start as a painless tightening that begins at the top of your uterine muscles and spreads downwards. They usually last about 15 to 30 seconds (but sometimes as long as two minutes) and cause your abdomen to become very hard and strangely contorted (almost pointy).

How you can tell them apart from real contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and infrequent. Once you get closer to your estimated due date, even these contractions become more frequent and intense – but while these false labor signs can be hard to distinguish from real labor, they're not efficient enough to push your baby out just yet. However real contractions grow stronger, longer and closer together as you near labor; if you notice this and other common labor signs you're likely all systems go.

What you can do about Braxton Hicks contractions

  • Drink up. Even minor dehydration can cause contractions.
  • Move. Try changing your position during a painful contraction — if you're sitting, stand up (and vice versa).
  • Visualize. Use these contractions as a chance to practice breathing and visualization techniques you've learned in your childbirth education class. (If your partner's around, make him practice, too.)


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