Whether you’re due date is still months away, fast approaching, or been and gone (in which case we sympathise) and whether this is your first baby or most definitely your last, it’s a good idea to gen up on exactly what to expect during the finale. And one of these things is Braxton Hicks contractions.
What are Braxton Hicks?
Essentially, they’re the muscles of your womb contracting. They typically last between 30-60 seconds at a time.
Usually painless, they can occur from middle of your pregnancy (although they can start much earlier) and happen more often as your due date nears. That’s not to say everyone gets them – and there’s no need to worry if you don’t.
But why do Braxton Hicks happen?
The professionals are divided on this one. Some believe they help tone and prepare your muscles, while others believe that they help soften the cervix in preparation for labour. But Mum’s often say that Braxton Hicks are Mother Nature’s joke on first-time mothers (and mums always know best!).
Also known as ‘practice contractions’, they’re quite the handy preparation for the real thing come delivery day when you get to meet your little one. You can practise not swearing at your partner when you are doubled over – or practise your breathing exercises to help you get through it.
So what’s the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions?
There has been many red-faced mums-to-be turned away from the labour ward in the hospital due to Braxton Hicks – especially during the latter stages of pregnancy, when they can increase in frequency and strength – what’s sometimes referred to as “false labour”. It can be tough as you’re all excited and ready to meet your little darling and it’s all a false alarm. Grrr.
So how do you tell the difference and avoid all the embarrassment?
Braxton Hicks are usually not truly painful, more uncomfortable. And on the other hand, real contractions increase in regularity, intensity and length as labour progresses, and also become progressively painful- so much so you’ll know the difference!
But don’t worry if you are unsure, it’s better to be safe rather than sorry so if you think you’re in labour, head to the hospital.
How can you ease the discomfort of Braxton Hicks?
While not as painful as real labour, Braxton Hicks can still be unpleasant. Common triggers include being active, someone touching your bump, having a full bladder, being dehydrated or after having some fun between the sheets. So don’t get overly excited when you need a wee and are gasping for a cuppa.
Seriously though, changing what you’re doing can often help so if you’re lying down get up or if you’re walking around stop and put your feet up. Practising your breathing exercises, a warm (not too hot) bath, or, as dehydration is a trigger, drinking a few glasses of water can also help.
Warning signs that you’re having real contractions:
- Lower back pain/cramping
- Bloody or watery vaginal discharge
- Regular contractions coming less than 12 minutes apart
- Heaviness in your pelvis and the urge to push
If you’re less than 37 weeks pregnant these could be signs you’re going into premature labour and you should contact your doctor or midwife immediately.
If you’re beyond 37 weeks, the above symptoms could mean D-Day has arrived (WAHOO).
If you experience any of the above or you think your waters have broken, contact your doctor as it’s time to have your baby!