What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions are named for the doctor who “discovered” them in 1872. We can only assume, however, that women did, in fact, feel Braxton Hicks contractions in the centuries before their naming in 1872. So what are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions usually feel like spotty, painless, or intermittent contractions. They can begin about halfway through pregnancy and continue on throughout. Some people call them false labor, pre-labor, or even mistakenly refer to them as prodromal labor. (Prodromal labor, however, is a little different.) Sometimes women will mistake Braxton Hicks contractions as movement from the baby. They can even feel like a sudden urge to urinate that disappears quickly.
While considered a universal part of pregnancy, not all women notice Braxton Hicks. However, while not everyone notices the tightening of the uterus in preparation for labor, all women do experience these “warm up” contractions. They can be seen on electronic monitors even if they are not felt. Braxton Hicks, whether noticed or not, serve to prepare the body and the baby for the coming labor. And while, technically, Braxton Hicks contractions don’t dilate the cervix or cause recognizable “progress” towards labor, they very likely serve a purpose.
Women tend to have more noticeable Braxton Hicks contractions the more pregnancies they have. Cheryl, a mom of five and a childbirth educator in College Station, TX says, "The more babies I had, the more noticeable Braxton Hicks were to me. They were never super painful but kind of took my breath away." Her experience is typical for many women.
It is possible that these irregular contractions both exercise the large muscular bag we call the uterus and help prepare the baby for labor with their gentle massage.
What Causes and Prevents Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Many women notice that Braxton Hicks contractions are brought on by three main things: fatigue, hunger, and thirst. We all know that for most women, pregnancy doesn’t guarantee rest and relaxation. We have to go about our life and the demands associated with it, despite the extra energy and calories used by our growing baby. Many women notice that at the end of a long day on their feet, especially when they are tired, hungry, or maybe haven’t been able to drink enough water, Braxton Hicks contractions will begin.
Cara, a Birth Boot Camp instructor in Carmel, IN says, "When I noticed too many Braxton Hicks contractions during a short period of time I took this as a sign that I needed to hydrate and rest." Your pregnant body tries to communicate with you and help you slow down.
For this reason, the same things that cause Braxton Hicks, can be turned around to help alleviate them. Put your feet up. Have a sandwich or a soothing cup of soup. Check out this list of nourishing pregnancy foods that can help you feel and function at your best. Sometimes appropriate pregnancy exercises can help too. Get someone who loves you to bring you a tall glass of water or some honey sweetened herbal tea. Relax. Take a bubble bath. Let someone take care of you for a few minutes. These simple acts of self care often help alleviate the sensation of Braxton Hicks.
While women are often expected to put in long work days and act as though pregnancy doesn’t slow them down, the truth is that pregnancy in and of itself is work. Your body is growing. Your blood volume is doubling. You are creating a placenta and then an actual human being with your own food and power. This is incredible work! It is also tiring and taxing. Sometimes our bodies have to tell us to slow down. Braxton Hicks is one way that your body talks to you.
How Can I Make Braxton Hicks Work For Me?
Andrea, a Birth Boot Camp DOULA and childbirth educator in Cleburne, TX, says, "Braxton hicks are such a pain. I often get them early and deal with them for a long time throughout my pregnancy. Most of the time they are tolerable and don't last long. Other times they cause me to lose my breath and stop what I'm doing. Those are the ones I practice with. I use my Braxton hicks to prepare me for when labor happens and when I need to relax during contractions."
Andrea's advice, to "use" Braxton Hicks as a chance to practice and prepare for labor (even though she doesn't enjoy them!) is great. We all want to be prepared for a fabulous birth, and this is one way we can do it. Rebecca, a natural childbirth instructor in Mansfield, TX had a similar thought. She says, "With my first baby, I rarely noticed the Braxton-Hicks contractions. If I did, it was a sure sign I was overdoing it and needed to rest. With baby number two, I felt them pretty much every single night in my third trimester. I definitely used them as an opportunity to practice my breathing and relaxation before real labor started!"
Maybe rather than thinking of Braxton Hicks as merely an strange annoyance, we should use them as our body's way of reminding us to practice relaxation! But besides the reminder to relax, Braxton Hicks can also serve as an affirmation that your body works. Jillian, a childbirth educator in Keller, TX says, "I took great delight in the reassurance that my uterus knew what it was doing and was practicing for the big day." What wonderful knowledge to have!
While we may not want to listen, there is no weakness in self-care and self-preservation. Listening to your body now, during pregnancy, will make it even easier for you to do this during labor, birth, and more importantly, as you progress as a mother once this baby is born. There will be so much to learn and more to do than can ever be accomplished. Pregnancy is a patient teacher that can help you find balance in your daily life.
What more info about Braxton Hicks? Our founder, Donna Ryan, tells it like it is!