braxton hicks contractionsbraxton hicks contractions

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What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Pregnancy is an amazing feeling for a soon-to-be mum. But no matter how exciting it may be, most expectant moms get anxious about labor pain once they’re in the third trimester. So much so that many of them start experiencing their belly tightening well before their due date, adding to their anxiousness. However, there is no need to be alarmed, especially if you’re a first-time mom, as these early sets of ‘contractions’ could most likely be Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as false labor pain.

Braxton Hicks contractions have been named after Dr. John Braxton Hicks, who first described them in 1872.

Braxton Hicks Symptoms - Where do You Feel Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are uterine contractions that usually occur during the third trimester. Some pregnant women might experience them as early as the second trimester.

When you get Braxton Hicks contractions, you’ll most likely experience tightening around your lower abdomen with varying degrees. Some of them are so mild at times that you might not even notice them. However, the stronger ones might take you completely by surprise with their intensity - something that could hinder your normal movement and daily activities. Some pregnant women even describe them as being akin to severe period cramps.

Unlike true labor, Braxton Hicks contractions do not have a regular pattern, do not get stronger with time, and don’t last long. They even disappear completely after a time. Braxton Hicks contractions become more frequent close to your due date.

Braxton Hicks Causes

The exact reason for Braxton-Hicks contractions is hitherto unknown although it is largely believed to be the body’s way of preparing for childbirth.

While the reason may be unknown, what we do know is what triggers them. Some researchers suggest that certain activities that cause stress to the fetus in the womb often trigger Braxton-Hicks contractions. Common activities that act as triggers are:

  1. Increased maternal activity - If you’ve been on your feet for too long or did some strenuous activity, you’ll most likely feel Braxton Hicks by the end of that day.
  2. Sexual activity - When you achieve an orgasm, your body produces oxytocin that makes muscles contract. With the uterus also being a muscle, it contracts after orgasm, thus triggering Braxton-Hicks contractions.
  3. Dehydration - The daily fluid requirement for a pregnant woman is 10 - 12 glasses a day. Anything less than that can cause dehydration and trigger Braxton Hicks contractions.
  4. Distended Maternal Bladder - If you’ve been holding your pee for too long, it creates pressure on the uterus, thus resulting in Braxton Hicks contractions

Braxton Hicks Contractions Treatment/Management

The first thing you’ll need to do when you experience Braxton Hicks contractions is to check with your doctor and confirm if they truly are Braxton Hicks contractions. Once it’s confirmed, you’ll need to relax and rest.

There is no specific line of treatment for Braxton Hicks contractions. They only need to be managed by avoiding all the trigger activities as much as possible.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Empty your bladder frequently. As annoying as this sounds, you’ll still need to keep up with the routine - drink a glass of water and empty your bladder in an hour.
  • Keep yourself well hydrated. Increasing your fluid intake doesn’t necessarily mean only plain water. Include other fluids as well like fresh fruit juices, milk, herbal teas, etc.
  • Change your sleep position. You might have been sleeping on your back lately as it is the most preferred position during the third trimester. Try lying on your left side for a change. This will improve blood flow to the uterus, placenta, and kidneys.

These lifestyle changes are usually sufficient to reduce Braxton Hicks contractions. However, if you continue to experience increased Braxton Hicks contractions, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor. You might also have a condition known as the irritable uterus. In this case, your doctor might first suggest other lifestyle changes, and if they don’t work, recommend medications to help ease the discomfort.

Home Remedies For Braxton Hicks Contractions

Lifestyle changes are usually recommended to reduce the frequency of Braxton Hicks contractions. However, what should you do at the moment when you experience it? Here’s how you can overcome the discomfort:

  • Lie and rest immediately if you’ve been active for long
  • Try to change your position if you are lying
  • If you’ve been sitting for too long, then go for a walk
  • Drink a glass of water to rehydrate yourself
  • Relax with a warm bath or a head massage
  • Other relaxing activities like reading a book, listening to music, or taking a nap also help

When to Call a Doctor for Braxton Hicks Contractions?

If despite the remedial actions your Braxton Hicks contractions do not subside or become more intense and frequent, then you’ll need to contact your doctor immediately. Also, look out for other signs during the contractions for which you might need to call your doctor:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Vaginal fluid leakage
  • Strong contractions of a 5-minute interval for an hour
  • Contractions affecting the expectant mom’s ability to walk
  • Change in fetal movement or less than 10 movements every 2 hours

Braxton Hicks contractions are very common during pregnancy. One needs to be aware that they are not true labor. However, if there is any doubt, it is imperative to consult the OB-GYN and get it confirmed as Braxton Hicks contractions. Only when the doctor rules out true labor, management actions and lifestyle changes should be considered.

With the right amount of education and awareness about Braxton Hicks contractions, pregnant women can have one less thing to be anxious about before they deliver their bundle of joy!  

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470546/
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000508.htm
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braxton_Hicks_contractions