Braxton Hicks Contractions during pregnancy explained, with advice on the why, when and how and differentiating them from pre term labour.
What are they?
Braxton Hicks are sporadic contractions of the uterus that occur throughout pregnancy. They can be felt as a tightening or hardening at the front of the abdomen that lasts for a minute or so and are generally noticed mid pregnancy although for many they begin at approximately 6 weeks. Unlike 'real' labour contractions, Braxton Hicks tend to be irregular in occurrence and duration and although they can increase in frequency and become uncomfortable during the final weeks of pregnancy they tend to disappear quite quickly.
Why do you get them?
In all honesty the real reason for Braxton Hicks contractions throughout pregnancy is unknown however many believe that they help to encourage the flow of blood to the placenta and to tone and soften the muscles of the uterus so as to support and protect the foetus. Over the final weeks of pregnancy Braxton Hicks contractions become more intense and they are often referred to as 'false labour' as they help with the effacement and dilation of the cervix in preparation for the birth.
How can you ease them?
Braxton Hicks tend to occur almost randomly however several triggers are known. Dehydration is thought to make Braxton Hicks more uncomfortable so making sure you are well hydrated should help. They are often triggered if you have been very active or have been on your feet for a long while so something as simple as sitting down and relaxing can help, many find a warm bath soothing too. Braxton Hicks can also be brought on when someone touches your stomach or if you have a very full bladder. Although they can be uncomfortable Braxton Hicks present you with the perfect opportunity to practice the breathing techniques and relaxation exercises you plan to use in labour so that you really are prepared when your baby decides to arrive.
When to see the Doctor
Braxton Hicks contractions themselves are harmless, however they can be confused for pre-term labour, a condition that would require immediate medical attention, so it is important to keep an eye on them just in case. If you haven't yet reached the 37th week of your pregnancy and you are experiencing more than 4 contractions an hour, if the contractions are becoming rhythmic or painful, if they are increasing in frequency, duration or intensity or if you are experiencing symptoms such as spotting, increased vaginal discharge, bleeding, back pain or the feeling of pressure on your pelvis then you should consult your healthcare professional as soon as possible.
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