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What are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
This contraction is defined as an irregular, usually painless contraction of uterine muscles that a pregnant woman experiences for up to a minute after the first trimester of pregnancy. They were named after John Braxton Hicks in the year 1872.
Not every woman is able to notice these contractions. While they are quite frequent in some cases, some will not experience them. The tightening feeling is more common during the third trimester, and lasts for about a minute and can be uncomfortable. It is totally harmless. As pregnancy progresses, some women may confuse Braxton Hicks contractions with labor pains, hence they are also called false labor pains.
Why do these contractions happen?
Braxton Hicks is an integral part of the pregnancy. These contractions merely indicate that you are advancing in your gestation period. They prepare you to face the actual labor pains. They may be in fact advantageous for you to practice the breathing exercises that are taught in the childbirth classes.
Some people are of the opinion that they aid in softening of cervix and during later stages of pregnancy, in dilation of cervix and effacement.
How to make out whether the contractions are real or fake?
This is a major issue with most women. Generally, you have the feeling that “this is the time” and you start rushing to the hospital. However, you can make out false labor pains with the real ones. Braxton Hicks contractions are characterized by being irregular, non-rhythmic and unpredictable. They are generally uncomfortable and do not increase in frequency or intensity, as is the case with real contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions may be triggered if your bladder is full, or either you or your baby is very active. A similar situation may arise if you are dehydrated. If the contractions ease out by any means, they are most probably not real labour pains.
Braxton Hicks contractions will ease out by changing positions, and will be centered around the pelvic region only. On the other hand, real contractions steadily increase in intensity and usually begin from the lower back to spread to the abdomen.
What to do if Braxton Hicks contractions are uncomfortable?
As mentioned earlier, these contractions are generally painless. As the pregnancy progresses, the contractions may increase in intensity and might be painful. However, it is only momentary. It is recommended that you change your position to alleviate the discomfort. If you have been sitting for a long time, get up and take a walk around to make you feel better. Also, try the techniques you learn in antenatal classes, such as relaxation, breathing, massages, etc.
Taking a warm, long bath can also help in such cases. Always keep yourself hydrated, as not drinking enough water can cause these contractions. Eat a light snack, or drink a cup of milk or a warm herbal tea to reduce the unpleasant sensations.
When should you contact your doctor?
In general, if the contractions are not easing out on their own or by using any of the relaxation techniques mentioned above, they may be actual pre-labour contractions. If one is having any of the following symptoms, it may point to true labour.
It is important that you get immediate medical attention if you are around 37 weeks pregnant; as you may go on to have a premature baby. However, if you are more than 37 weeks pregnant and the contractions last for 60 seconds, it is considered a normal situation. Contact your doctor if contraction is very painful or accompanied by unusual symptoms like fever and nausea.