Braxton Hicks contractions are intermittent uterine contractions that can start early on in pregnancy. Some women never notice them, others notice them early on, and still others will not notice them until about half way through the pregnancy. These contractions are named after Doctor John Braxton Hicks who first described them in 1872. Braxton Hicks will likely occur more frequently the farther you progress in your pregnancy and, in your last few weeks, may even come regularly and painfully which can cause confusion with preterm labor. Braxton Hicks at the end of your pregnancy can be very intense and frequent, but they aren’t pointless; these contractions can help efface (thin out) and possibly even dilate (open up) your cervix. While some doctors may call this false labor, it is more aptly described as prelabor because it does actually have a purpose in preparing your cervix for labor.
Braxton Hicks contractions can feel like early labor contractions where your uterus, lower abdomen, and groin area tense and then relax. Braxton Hicks can usually be alleviated with a change in activity or position. If you are standing, try sitting. If you are lying down, try rolling over. If you are exercising, trying resting. Drinking water can also lessen Braxton Hicks, as they can be brought on by dehydration.
If your Braxton Hicks contractions do not stop or change with a change in activity and instead become regular and consistent, then they may have turned into early labor and you should start timing them so you know when you hit the magical 4-1-1 or 5-1-1. This is when the contractions are coming 4 minutes apart (or 5 depending on your doctor’s recommendation) and lasting 1 minute each consistently for 1 hour. It is typically recommended that you call the L&D unit or just go in when you reach this point.
If you have any questions about Braxton Hicks feel free to leave a comment. Next blog I will be posting on the letter C... C is for Cervix.