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Braxton Hicks Contractions: A Precursor To Labor?

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During the last trimester of your pregnancy, your body undergoes some miraculous changes to prepare itself for labor and delivery. Some of these changes, such as Braxton Hicks contractions, can be a painless transformation.   It is possible, in your rush for labor to begin, to be unable to tell Braxton Hicks contractions and real contractions apart.

Throughout pregnancy, the uterus contracts sporadically. These contractions can sometimes be felt by the mother, but are usually too weak to help dilate the cervix. These contractions, which are also known as practice contractions, are called Braxton Hicks contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions were first explained in 1872, by an English doctor by the name of John Braxton Hicks, giving these contractions their name.

Some mothers actually begin to feel Braxton Hicks contractions earlier during their pregnancies. This does not mean that pre labor or false labor is going to occur early in the pregnancy, and cause premature labor. The Braxton Hicks contractions only help to prepare, or exercise, the uterus for labor and delivery.

A Braxton Hicks contraction, which tightens the muscles of the uterus, usually lasts only 30-60 seconds long. As pregnancy progresses, the Braxton Hicks contractions tend to get more intense and even painful. When the contractions become rhythmic they are often referred to as false labor. Sometimes light activity, such as loading groceries or sweeping will cause the Braxton Hicks contractions to come more frequently.

Braxton Hicks contractions, later in a pregnancy, will often turn into pre labor contractions. During pre labor, the contractions work to efface and dilate the cervix in preparation for labor and delivery. The contractions also work to soften the cervix. The more work done during prelabor, the shorter the mother’s labor tends to be.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish false labor from true labor. During false labor, contractions will come frequently, but will not progress, and eventually stop. Also, if the mother switches positions or soaks in a warm bath, the false labor contractions will often come to a sudden stop. During true labor, the contractions will continue to progress and will become regular over time.

During a Braxton Hicks contraction, the tightening is centered around the abdomen. During true labor, the tightening will occur in the abdomen, but, the pain is centered mostly in the lower back. Timing the contractions is the easiest way to decipher if it is true labor. If the contractions continue in a steady pattern and increase in intensity, it is important to call the doctor.

If the Braxton Hicks contractions actually become uncomfortable, there are several ways to help relieve the pain. Try changing positions, or taking a brisk walk. If that does not help, try drinking a glass of water. The contractions are sometimes brought on by dehydration. When there is a lack of fluids, the uterus tends to become irritable.

The changes that a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy are nothing short of miraculous. Braxton Hicks contractions are just one more thing that the pregnant body must do to prepare itself for labor and delivery. It is important to keep doctors informed of any changes during pregnancy, including a change in the frequency or intensity of Braxton Hicks contractions.

Written by Jaime Warren of CaesareanBirth.com


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