Practical advice for new parents

Braxton Hicks Contractions

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Braxton Hicks contractions are the irregular and usually painless contractions that often begin around the 20th week of pregnancy and continue until labor begins. Women who have had previous pregnancies may experience Braxton Hicks contractions even earlier. These contractions, that generally increase as the pregnancy progresses, help the body prepare for labor, soften and ripen the cervix, and shift the baby into position for birth.

Most women describe the feeling of Braxton Hicks contractions as a tightening of the abdomen or a feeling of the baby bunching up in one place. For some women, the contractions are somewhat painful, similar to those of menstrual cramps.

It is very common for women to confuse what they believe to be the beginnings of real labor with Braxton Hicks contractions. This is especially true for first time mothers who have yet to feel the much stronger contractions associated with labor. Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, labor contractions are painful, more frequent, and don’t dissipate when shifting position.

While Braxton Hicks contractions are harmless and perfectly normal, there are ways to minimize their frequency. As dehydration is one of the most common causes of contractions, drinking plenty of water will keep them at bay. You might also try emptying your bladder frequently, getting enough rest, and not engaging in any type of heavy lifting in order to minimize the occurrences of Braxton Hicks contractions.

Most health care providers have specific guidelines on when to call about contractions. Usually you are advised to simply rest unless you are experiencing more than four contractions in one hour or if the contractions are becoming increasingly painful. If the contractions are accompanied by a watery or bloody discharge, it is essential to make that call immediately - particularly if you are less than 37 weeks along as preterm labor is a possibility and a serious concern.