Pregnancy varies from one expecting mom to another. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, #LifeIsMeshy thanks to complications that we have to endure as our little angel grows inside our womb.
While the first months could’ve had you dealing with morning sickness or headaches on a daily basis, prepare for a new set of challenges as your not-so-warm welcome for reaching the third trimester. Constipation, swollen feet, and pesky hemorrhoids can be pretty self-explanatory, but there’s one thing that could cause confusion or even panic to unsure mommas - Braxton Hicks contractions.
Is the baby okay? Does it mean you’re about to give birth? Can you get rid of the discomfort completely?
In this guide, allow us to help cast your fears away by dropping all 8 things that every expecting mom must know about Braxton Hicks contractions.
#1 - What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
If you can’t get enough of feeling your baby bump, you might have noticed that there are times when it feels kind of tight. Not only does your popping belly look like a whole watermelon, but it can also feel as hard as one!
Usually, playing around with your abdomen might be responded to by a gentle kick or even complete silence if your little one is snoozing. But when you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, you’ll be greeted by what could feel like a solid wall instead.
The tightening will usually start at the upper portion of your uterine muscles until it gradually spread downwards. This can go on for about 30 seconds until it goes away.
Here’s a quick exercise to help you picture it clearly. In normal instances, poking your baby bump will feel similar to when you poke your thighs. It bounces, right? But with Braxton Hicks, it can be comparable to feeling your knees instead.
Have you ever been fascinated (or weirded out) by how your abdomen can get contorted to a cone-like shape? It’s cute to imagine that it’s just your little angel doing yoga, but that could also be a signal that you’re having Braxton hicks contractions.
Some mommies compare it to having mild menstrual cramps. While Braxton Hicks contractions can be quite uncomfortable, they usually aren’t accompanied by any pain. In fact, first-time moms might not even notice having them at all! However, they do get more intense and frequent as you get closer and closer to your big day.
#2 - How early in pregnancies do Braxton Hicks start?
Your body might be preoccupied with facilitating your baby’s growth, but it also has another important job - prepare you for giving birth.
If this is your first pregnancy, Braxton Hicks can make its debut as early as your second trimester, somewhere around your 20th week. It can be really subtle, so you might not know you’re having them until you cross the third trimester mark.
For later pregnancies, these false labor contractions can start way earlier at about your 16th week.
Does Braxton Hicks mean my baby is coming early?
As your due date comes near, your brain will start sending signals for your body to get on with the beautiful process of childbirth. Consider Braxton Hicks as practice tests before the real deal.
So don’t worry, there’s no need to panic. These tightening sensations are normal and do not mean your baby is demanding to come out pronto.
#3 - What causes Braxton Hicks?
While Braxton Hicks is often your own hormones’ doing, it can also be triggered by other factors:
- Dehydration - Trust us, gulping down more water can do wonders for you and the baby. Apart from Braxton Hicks, tons of pregnancy complications (e.g. constipation, hemorrhoids, etc.) point to dehydration as the culprit.
- Your baby’s movements - Those kicks are a great sign that your baby is healthy and well, but at the expense of added pressure to your organs. No wonder some mommies literally beg their angels to spare them a bit of mercy!
- Your daily activities - Braxton Hicks can consider the act of lifting objects or having sexual intercourse as an invite to make an appearance. You might also notice that you get them more often when you lie in certain positions.
- Other illnesses that cause you to vomit or feel nauseous
#4 - How will I know if it’s Braxton Hicks or true labor contractions?
If you want to know for sure that you’re not having a preterm labor, consider these factors that can help you differentiate Braxton Hicks from what to expect on your big day:
Frequency and Duration
If you’re actually about to meet your little angel, true contractions will occur at regular intervals which usually lasts for about 30 to 70 seconds. Moreover, you’ll experience them more often as actual labor comes near.
In contrast, Braxton Hicks contractions can be quite unpredictable, barely following any pattern at all. They could occur once or twice each hour, or as rarely as just a few times every day. Both its frequency and duration greatly depends on the mom-to-be. Be careful not to get confused though, since these false contractions can also occur more often as you approach your due date. Some women even get them every 10 to 20 minutes!
Dilation of the Cervix
It all boils down to the purpose of these two types of contractions. Notice how the dilation of a momma’s cervix is measured to confirm if she’s really about to give birth.
In actual labor, the persistent and regular contractions are meant to expand your cervix for your baby’s arrival. Meanwhile, Braxton Hicks contractions are just your body’s way of practicing. It won’t stimulate your cervix and will definitely not trigger actual birth.
Intensity of Discomfort
Basically, real contractions will be painful and grow more unbearable over time. Expect that it will intensify at a steady pace. The discomfort from labor will peak whenever your uterine muscles tighten, then you’ll get a quick breather when it relaxes.
Conversely, Braxton Hicks are hardly painful at all. Sure, they can be uncomfortable. But they won’t cause you to tear up and scream as actual labor would. Moreover, the intensity of discomfort you’ll feel is as sporadic as its frequency and duration. Some moms describe theirs as generally weak, while others experience strong tightening that gradually gets lighter.
Location of Discomfort
For real contractions, mommies usually feel the pain all over their abdomen as well as their lower back. It could also be intense enough to reach your thighs and legs! As for Braxton Hicks, the location of discomfort is just concentrated in front of your belly.
Changing your position or pausing the work you’ve been doing usually gets rid of Braxton Hicks contractions. However, doing the same would barely help if you’re under actual labor.
Other Accompanying Symptoms
While Braxton Hicks can be barely noticeable, real contractions come with other green flags for labor. It’s usually followed by a streak of pinkish discharge caused by your water breaking along with blood flow.
#6 - Why are Braxton Hicks worse at night?
We know it’s already hard to doze off when you’re pregnant, but you have to know that Braxton Hicks contractions can occur more often when all you need is some peace and quiet.
Blame it all on your hormones. The cocktail of estrogen, oxytocin, and melatonin that peaks when the sun is down will stimulate more contraction in your uterine muscles.
#7 - How can I make Braxton Hicks go away?
Reality check - it’s almost impossible to control the occurrence of Braxton Hicks. That dull ache will come and go without your approval, mommy. The best you can do is manage its usual triggers and control your reaction too. Here’s how:
- Take note of your body positions whenever you get the contractions and shift to a more comfortable posture whenever you can. If you’ve been having a lazy day, try going for a walk or doing light exercise. If you’ve been pretty active, a power nap or a warm bath might help.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Take advantage of it and practice your breathing techniques for actual childbirth.
- Book a massage that’s safe for you and your baby.
#8 - When should I call my doctor or midwife?
Be wary of all the symptoms we’ve mentioned attributed to real contractions. If you’re at the 38 to 40 weeks mark, simply take note of the instructions your doctor or midwife gave about monitoring the first signs of childbirth. However, give them a call immediately if you’re only at 37 weeks or earlier as these can be red flags for premature labor.
Regardless of how long you are into your pregnancy, seek medical help whenever you:
- Notice vaginal bleeding
- Observe reduced movements from your baby
- Feel intolerably ill
- Experience persistent abdominal pain
Consider this article as a guide, but never a basis for self-diagnosis. When in doubt, the best thing to do is to contact your doctor.
Is your pregnancy what you expected it to be or have you been surprised by any of your symptoms? Let us know in the comments below!