These contractions are felt earlier and more intensely if this is a second or subsequent pregnancy. You’ll notice the muscle of your uterus is tightening for anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds. In actuality, the uterus is flexing its muscles, getting ready for the real contractions which will help push your baby out at term.
These practice contractions will begin at the top of the uterus and gradually spread downward before relaxing. Labor contractions are noticeably longer and more intense then Braxton Hicks. Most first time pregnant women will ask their doctor, “How can I tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor?” The answer is almost always the same and somewhat vague, “You’ll know real labor when it begins.”
Braxton Hicks contractions are not intense enough to deliver your baby, however they do serve a purpose other than keep an expecting mother on her toes; they help to get the pre-birth process of effacement and early dilation started thus putting mom ahead of the game before labor actually begins. Many doctors recommend using Braxton Hicks contractions as the perfect opportunity to practice the breathing exercises learned in childbirth classes.
Although considered painless when compared with true labor contractions, Braxton Hicks can be very uncomfortable. You may notice Braxton Hicks come more frequently when doing light physical activity like vacuuming or carrying groceries in from the car. If you feel discomfort, try lying down and relaxing or getting up and walking around. Listen to your body. Changing your position may stop the contraction all together.
Some doctors recommend drinking a few glasses of water to help diminish Braxton Hicks contractions as they can sometimes be brought by dehydration; as a rule, a lack of adequate fluid intake can make the uterus more irritable-another good reason to drink those eight glasses of fluids daily during pregnancy!
Braxton Hicks contractions may be difficult to differentiate from pre-term labor activity so it’s always wise to err on the side of caution.
Call your doctor anytime contractions are:
Any or all of these can be signs of premature labor and require immediate medical attention. If you are past 37 weeks gestation and have no other complications throughout your pregnancy, the call to the doctor can wait until contractions last 60 seconds each and are five minutes apart.