Braxton Hicks are named after the English Doctor, John Braxton Hicks, who first described them in 1872. Braxton Hicks contractions are also known as false labor or practice contractions and are sporadic uterine contractions that usually happen midway through your pregnancy. This is most common in the second and third trimester, but women who are in their second pregnancy or more may feel them earlier on. As your uterus continues to grow, you may start to notice an increase in the tightening. Some women wonder, what do Braxton Hicks feel like ? Well, you may feel the muscles tightening in your stomach which usually last from 15 – 30 seconds long but can sometimes last as long as two minutes or more. These feelings shouldn’t cause you any pain, but will be more on the uncomfortable side.
When your uterus is tightening, you may even be able to see what you are feeling, where your stomach is usually rounder in shape may now be pointy or weirdly bunched up. Though Braxton Hicks contractions are not true labor, they may be difficult to distinguish from the real thing. They may become more intense as your pregnancy comes to an end. Although these contractions aren’t effective enough to deliver your baby, it does give you a head start as to what it will be like. Some also believe that these help by getting effacement (the process by which the cervix prepares for delivery) and early dilation of the cervix. Some also believe that Braxton Hicks play a part in toning the uterine muscles and promoting blood flow to the placenta.
Braxton Hicks have been described as many things; infrequent, sporadic and often uncomfortable. To relieve any discomfort you may be feeling during these contractions; try lying down if you have been on your feet, get up and walk around if you have been sitting, change positions or the activity you are doing or try taking a warm bath. Make sure you keep yourself well hydrated as dehydration can sometimes cause these contractions. Keep in mind that true labor will not be relieved by anything and will persist through anything you try. You may want to take advantage of these contractions though and get some practice in for the real thing. Work on your breathing, your coping mechanisms for pain and various other child birthing techniques you have learned or may want to try out during labor. Try relaxation exercises or slow, deep breathing, this won’t actually stop the contractions, but it will help you cope with the discomfort.
If your contractions don’t subside or start to become painful and stronger and more regular, it may be actual labor. Depending on the severity and longevity of the contractions you may be going into true labor. The rule of thumb is, if you haven’t yet hit 37 weeks pregnant and have more than four Braxton Hicks an hour, you should contact your family practitioner. Braxton Hicks may be hard to distinguish from the real thing, especially if you are close to your due date and this is your first pregnancy as you don’t know what to expect. Keep in mind that if they are true contractions they won’t fall into a textbook pattern, and will become more intense and frequent over time. Make sure to discuss any concerns you have with your family practitioner.