It had been a long day and it was only 11am. Whew! Climbing the stairs for the umpteenth time, I started to feel something strange. My belly was super tight and hard, like a fully inflated basketball. And while it was only slightly uncomfortable, it felt a little difficult to breathe. Then, as quickly as the sensation had come, it was gone. “Hmmm, what was that?”, I wondered to myself as I resumed ascending what seemed like a never-ending staircase. “I guess I’ll google it after this next trip to the bathroom.”
I had to be in the middle of my second trimester when I learned about Braxton Hicks contractions. I don’t think I ever noticed them in my first pregnancy, so this was something totally new.
Throughout the rest of my pregnancy, the sensations came and went at different times
of the day, sometimes lasting for minutes and sometimes for hours! As my due date got closer and closer, and they became even more frequent, I began to worry about something. Would I know the difference between these practice contractions,
as everyone called them, and the real ones? These had become a little more uncomfortable and I wasn’t so sure.
So, what exactly are Braxton Hicks contractions?
They are the mild contractions or tightening of the uterus. It is normal to start experiencing Braxton Hicks as early as the second trimester.
They normally will continue into the third trimester as your body gets some practice in before the big day arrives. If you don’t think you’ve ever had them, it’s not a problem. But, if you’ve never felt them before getting super close to your estimated due date, you might think you’re starting to go into labor.
If this is the case, how would you be able to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and true labor?
For starters, Braxton Hicks contractions are usually not painful. They can be moderately uncomfortable as you feel your abdomen get tighter and tighter before it relaxes again. They are sporadic in nature, having no rhyme or rhythm, so you might not be able to time them well. You may only feel them in the front of the abdomen or on one side. Sometimes drinking water, taking a shower or warm bath, or changing your activity or positions, they will go away.
Over time, true labor contractions will continue to get stronger, last longer, and come closer together. They will not stop no matter what you do. Instead of being concentrated in one area, you may feel them start in your lower back and then wrap around you like a big hug. You know, the kind you grandmama gives you when she hasn’t seen you in a while. As the contraction begins to go away, the hug gets looser. You will go from wondering if it was a contraction, to realizing there’s nothing like the real thing, and knowing for certain that it is indeed real labor. You’ll take out your smart phone, open your contraction app, and begin timing them. Eventually, they will need your full, undivided attention to work through them and your significant other will become the timekeeper. Drinking water, taking a warm bath, and changing positions may help you get more comfortable, but nothing you do will stop what’s been set in motion.
Can you prevent Braxton Hicks?
Staying hydrated can prevent some Braxton Hicks activity. Vomiting or diarrhea can cause dehydration so be sure you follow up with your provider if it lasts for 24 hours or more and you’re not yet 37 weeks pregnant. The uterus can become a bit irritable if you’re dehydrated. If you and your special someone decide to get a little frisky, the oxytocin released during sex may cause your uterus to contract as well. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun, just know it might happen.
Let’s have a quick review of how to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and True Labor Contractions.
· Usually cause little to no discomfort
· Have no regular pattern
· Vary in frequency and length
· Do not get stronger, longer, or closer together
· May stop with increased hydration or a change in activity
· Only felt in the front or just one part of the abdomen
· Become increasingly uncomfortable
· Develop a regular, predictable pattern
· Increases in frequency and length
· Become stronger, longer, and closely spaced
· May slow down with added hydration or activity change, but will not stop
· Often felt from the lower back to the front or symmetrically on both sides
When the time comes, you may still be a bit unsure. Try not to worry about it too much. It’s totally normal. As many may have told you already, when it’s really time, you’ll know it. However, don’t hesitate to call your doula or your care provider to help you figure it out. That’s what we’re here for!
If you haven’t found a doula yet, contact Atlanta Family Doulas. We would love to hear about your journey and your goals because what matters to you is what matters most! After that, we can discuss what our support looks like as this part of your family's story begins to unfold. Please give us a call or complete our contact form and someone will reach out to you within 24 hours.