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Braxton Hicks contractions are contractions of the uterus during pregnancy. They are characterized by a painless tightening of the uterus, occurring sporadically and infrequently from approximately the sixth week of pregnancy, although many women do not notice them until more than half-way through the pregnancy. These contractions were first documented by John Braxton Hicks, an English obstetrician, in 1872. They are also known as “practice” contractions, because they slowly prepare the uterus for the real contractions it will undergo during labor and delivery.
While Braxton Hicks contractions are harmless, it is often difficult for pregnant women to distinguish between them and preterm labor, which can be more serious. If a woman is less than 37 weeks pregnant, she should monitor the Braxton Hicks contractions if there are four or more in a hour. If the contractions become rhythmic, painful, or increasingly frequent, accompanied by menstrual-like cramping or abdominal pain, then she should contact her medical provider or midwife immediately. These symptoms, along with vaginal bleeding or spotting or watery, mucous discharge that is clear, pink, or blood-tinged are all signs of pre-term labor. Pelvic pressure and lower back pain accompanied by increasing Braxton Hicks contractions are also cause for concern.
After 37 weeks, the baby is considered full term, and Braxton Hicks contractions mean that things are going according to plan. As a woman nears her due date, these contractions may become more intense, because at this point, they are aiding in getting the cervix “ripened,” or softened and effaced. Once contractions, Braxton Hicks or regular, are 60 seconds in duration and five minutes or less apart, it is a good idea for a woman to call her healthcare or midwife. She may be in early labor. Whether it is her first or your fifth child, no one knows how long or fast labor will be, so it is often better to be safe than sorry. Many a mother has delivered on the way to the hospital or in the emergency room because she had chalked up pre-labor contractions to Braxton Hicks contractions and waited because she was afraid to be sent home.
Most mothers agree that Braxton Hicks contractions can be one of the more uncomfortable aspects of pregnancy. A medical professional will offer many suggestions to make a woman more comfortable while experiencing them. Changing position should help to stop them, and many women find that lying on one side is better than lying on the back.
If a woman is walking when she experiences Braxton Hicks contractions, she should try sitting down, and if she is resting, she may try getting up and walking. The distraction of physical activity sometimes masks the contractions. Dehydration is considered to be one of the causes of Braxton Hicks contractions, so drinking a glass of water may help put the uterus to rest. Breathing techniques, a warm bath or shower, and emptying the bladder are all other things to try.
Of course, there are old wives' remedies that claim to alleviate or stop this type of contractions. Since these are not medical remedies, a pregnant woman should always consult a medical professional before using an herbal remedy. In the “old days,” pregnant women turned to a glass of wine, which inhibits uterine contractions, to help, but now alcohol is not recommended during pregnancy.
An herbal tea consisting of skull cap or passion flower, fresh ginger, and wild yam is said to relax the uterus and the entire pelvic area. Other herbs used in teas or diluted tinctures that are believed to be remedies for Braxton Hicks contractions include black haw, black cohosh, and cramp bark. While all these remedies may help alleviate the discomfort of pregnancy, a woman should remember that Braxton Hicks contractions are doing the important job of priming the uterus for labor.
I just wanted to add that Braxton Hicks contractions are not always so painless. Mine were very uncomfortable. I experienced them with all three of my children. With my first child, they gave me a fair amount of pain.
And sometimes, real labor can be mistaken for these contractions. My co-worker was having contractions. Her husband insisted they were Braxton Hicks. She had the baby the next day. So be aware.
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