From around 16 weeks, some women experience Braxton Hicks Contractions. These are basically irregular uterine tightenings that should be painless (yet can feel a little weird for the first time). For most women they don't happen often and when experienced they only occur approximately 1-2 times in an hour period, and sometimes not on a daily basis. Your uterus muscles contract and tighten throughout your whole pregnancy, it's only as your baby grows bigger that you start to feel these contractions occurring.
If you feel your stomach with your hands during a Braxton Hicks contraction you will notice how firm and tight the whole area has become. You will also feel the relax and drop as the contraction releases again.
Research shows that Braxton Hicks Contractions are your body's way of preparing for the upcoming task of labour. Your uterine muscles are toning and ripening with every contraction, and some experts believe the cervix is also being stretched and prepared for birth through the notion of this tightening and relaxing.
Your muscles and hormones are working in balance to fully prepare you, your baby and your body for the birth process, which could still be months away.
It can be a little overwhelming to experience contractions, especially if this is your first pregnancy, or if your due date is still a long way off.
So, what are the difference between Braxton Hicks and Labour Contractions?
- Braxton Hicks Contractions are irregular, unpredictable and very inconsistent (whereas actual Labour Contractions usually start to follow a rhythm or timed pattern)
- Braxton Hicks are rarely painful. They can be slightly uncomfortable and take you off guard, but they should not be unbearable.
- Braxton Hicks can be lessened and/or stopped if you change activities (eg: if you've been on your feet all day and are experiencing BH Contractions, try lying down to calm them. Or if you've been lying down or sitting down a lot that day, try moving around.)
- Braxton Hicks should not last long (around 30 secs), compared to labour pains.
Ensure you are well hydrated, rested and fit during your pregnancy to not only maintain good prenatal health, but to strengthen and protect your body (and uterus) during these changes.
Treat Braxton Hicks as practice contractions for when the real thing happens at the end of your pregnancy. The further along in your pregnancy, the more intense they may feel (because your uterus and baby are larger). In fact, during my second pregnancy, most Braxton Hicks contractions I experienced took my breath away for a few seconds, as they were immensely intense. Focus on your breathing during this short period of time and allow your body to really feel & grasp the sensation of a contraction.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms along with contractions, contact your Doctor, Midwife or Birth Specialist:
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