Braxton Hicks

You may have heard this funny phrase before you were pregnant, but now you really want to know what it means. It all started in 1872 when an English doctor, John Braxton Hicks, described the contractions that occur before real labor. Can you imagine all the women before that who never knew what real labor was and what wasn't? Doctors and pregnant women have Dr. Hicks to thank for clearing up all the confusion. The following information will help you determine when you are having "the real thing" or Braxton Hicks contractions.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions can begin as early as the second trimester, however they are most common in the third trimester. The muscles of your uterus tighten for approximately 30 to 60 seconds or as long as 2 minutes. Braxton Hicks are also called "practice contractions" because they will prepare you for the real thing and you can practice the breathing exercises you are learning in your childbirth classes.

Braxton Hicks are described as:

  • Irregular in intensity
  • Infrequent
  • Unpredictable
  • Non-rhythmic
  • More uncomfortable than painful
  • They do not increase in intensity, or frequency
  • They taper off and then disappear altogether
  • If your contractions are easing up in any way, they are most likely Braxton Hicks.

What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

There are a few speculations for why women have these contractions. Some physicians and midwives think they may play a part in toning the uterine muscle and promoting the flow of blood to the placenta. They are not believed to have any connection with dilating the cervix or effacement. However, as Braxton Hicks contractions become more intense closer to the time of delivery, the contractions are considered false labor, which can help in the dilation and effacement process.

What triggers Braxton Hicks contractions?

The following are triggers of Braxton Hicks:

  • When you or the baby are very active
  • If someone touches your belly
  • When your bladder is full
  • After sex
  • Dehydration

What can I do to alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions?

  • Change positions; lie down if you have been standing or go for a walk if you have been sitting or laying
  • Take a warm bath for 30 minutes or less
  • Drink a couple of glasses of water, because contractions may be brought on by dehydration
  • Drink a warm cup of herbal tea or milk
  • If doing any of these does not alleviate your contractions, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association.