After practicing obstetrics for 20 years, there were certain questions that came up time and again. One of the most common questions was: What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
The diagnosis of Braxton Hicks contractions is made after other explanations for uterine contractions, such as premature labor, abruption, dehydration, ruptured membranes, multiple gestations, chorioamnionitis, and pyelonephritis have been ruled out.
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Braxton Hicks contractions are often described as a painless tightening (contraction) of the uterus that occurs intermittently
during pregnancy. They were first described by John Braxton Hicks in 1872. One term I have heard used to describe these
contractions is “Practice Contractions”. This is not a term used by health care providers in the field of obstetrics. I believe it can
lead to a false sense of security.
Labor is defined as uterine contractions associated with cervical change: effacement and dilation. The uterus is a muscle and
will contract in response to various stimuli that cause muscle irritability. The purpose of this article is to emphasize the
importance of distinguishing between Braxton Hicks contractions and real labor contractions. As Braxton Hicks contractions
persist approaching your due date, the term False Labor might be ascribed to them as they are not causing the progression of \
labor in the form of cervical change. (Source)
What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions have the following characteristics:
- Very occasional tightening of the uterus
- No pattern
- Often painless
- When clinically evaluated, Braxton Hicks contractions are not associated with cervical change.
What can cause Braxton Hicks Contractions?
- Increased activity mother or fetus
- Changes in maternal position (lying on the back can cause contractions)
- A full bladder can sometimes trigger Braxton Hicks, so urination may end the contractions.
Does every pregnant woman feel them?
Signs and symptoms during pregnancy differ from one woman to another. There are some women who truly do not feel Braxton Hicks contractions. Others will say they feel a tightening across the uterus.
If there is low back pain associated with uterine contractions this is considered a characteristic of labor pain. If you experience low back pain with uterine contractions you should call your doctor immediately if you are not full term.
We know Braxton Hicks contractions can be painless because prenatal care providers will occasionally palpate a contraction during a prenatal visit and expectant mothers do not always feel them.
The term Braxton Hicks contractions are usually applied to sporadic uterine contractions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
How to relieve Braxton Hicks contractions?
There are a few potential steps you can take to relieve Braxton Hicks contractions:
- Drink fluids. Drink one to two large glasses of water. If dehydration is the cause and it often is, your contractions should stop. If your urine is concentrated, drink water until clear.
- Decrease your activity. Sometimes you can overdo it. If you have been on your feet a long time or exercising, sit down or lie down and rest.
- Lie on your left side. Lying on your back can cause more uterine activity.
*Call your doctor while you are resting and hydrating so you will know what to do if the contractions do not subside. Frequency, duration, and intensity are all important factors, so have this information available when you call.
When should I call my doctor?
If you read about Braxton Hicks Contractions, you will always see a variation of the following statement:
“If you have any concerns about contractions during your pregnancy contact your prenatal care provider.”
When contractions require an evaluation, the only way to distinguish Braxton Hicks contractions from premature labor is by
performing a physical exam of the cervix for signs of cervical change. An exam will determine if there is a thinning of the cervix
(effacement) and/or cervical dilation.
The following are signs that often accompany true labor contractions:
- Lower back pain
- Loose stools
- Brown-tinged mucous
- Watery discharge
Braxton Hicks contractions are contractions. Where they end and premature labor begins has been and continues to be
a difficult distinction. Treating contractions with hydration and left-sided rest in the office may be all that is required to get
Braxton Hicks contractions to subside.
What to read next:
- Maternity Hospital Tour: 20 Important Questions You Should Ask
- How To Prevent Dehydration During Pregnancy
- 10 Questions To Ask Your Doctor During Your Last Month Of Pregnancy