As you get closer to your due date, you may notice painless tightenings of your belly and wonder whether or not these are true contractions or Braxton Hicks contractions.
What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions are painless tightenings of the uterus. They are named after the doctor who discovered them in 1872. You'll notice them as your belly gets harder. Often, only a part of your belly will get hard--the top or bottom or one of the sides. These contractions are usually not painful, though they can be uncomfortable.
Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes called 'false labor' or 'pre-labor' contractions. They are a normal part of pregnancy and nothing to be concerned about.
How Will I Know if I Get Them?
You may not. The uterus is a muscle that needs to stay strong. A woman's uterus contracts all through her lifetime, and usually we don't notice it. If you touch your belly and it feels hard and then a few seconds later it's soft again, you just had a Braxton Hicks contraction. You will get these contractions more frequently as you get closer to your due date. Braxton Hicks contractions do a great deal of work for you, preparing your body for labor. For many women, they will cause dilation and effacement as you approach your due date.
How Do I Make Them Stop?
You may not be able to. But if they're bothering you or you're uncomfortable, your body is trying to tell you to relax. Take a bath, watch a movie, go for a walk and get something to eat. These pre-labor contractions often disappear if you change position. You also might experience these contractions if you're dehydrated. If they disappear after drinking some water, you were dehydrated and need to be drinking more fluids. Remember that you need to be drinking at least eight glasses of fluid a day--more if it's hot outside or you're sweating.
How Do Braxton Hicks Differ From True Contractions?
True contractions usually start in your back and radiate forward. Braxton Hick contractions are only in your belly and may only consist of a part of your belly getting hard. They are usually not painful. Pre-labor contractions are usually very short in duration and have no pattern. You may have a group of four or five of these little contractions in ten minutes and then nothing for hours. True contractions get closer together, are stronger, are usually painful and have a pattern.
How to Time Contractions
To time contractions you will need a watch or clock with a second hand. A stopwatch will also work well. Start timing the contraction when you first feel the tightening in your belly and then stop timing it when it releases. Then time the amount of time from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction. You should time eight to ten contractions in a row to determine if they're getting longer, stronger and closer together. If your contractions are still sporadic or are not getting stronger or closer together, stop timing them and find something else to do. Start timing the contractions again when it seems like they've changed.
What If I'm Not Close to My Due Date and I'm Contracting?
If you experience five or more contractions in one hour and are less than 38 weeks pregnant, you might be going into preterm labor. You should contact your care provider and follow his instructions.
Practice Contractions or Real Labor
Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy and nothing to be concerned about. Sometimes they are confused with true contractions. If you are not sure whether or not you are experiencing true contractions, time the contractions to see if there is a pattern to them and remember that Braxton Hicks are painless.