Contractions that are intermittent “practice” contractions of the uterus are Braxton Hicks Contractions that can start very early in pregnancy, possibly as early as 6 weeks along. Most women don’t begin to notice them until the second trimester, closer to 20-24 weeks. Sometimes these painless uterine contractions go undetected until the third trimester (this is when they’re the most common) and sometimes women may never experience any. It seems they are felt earlier and with greater intensity in second or subsequent pregnancies.
Braxton Hicks Contractions: A Prelude to Labor
Braxton Hicks contractions are sporadic uterine contractions that can start as early as the second trimester but are more commonly felt in the third trimester. Unlike true labor contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions are typically painless and serve as a rehearsal for the uterus, preparing it for labor.
Identifying Braxton Hicks Contractions
Recognizing Braxton Hicks contractions is essential to differentiate them from true labor contractions. Here are some characteristics to help you identify them:
Irregular Timing: Braxton Hicks contractions occur at irregular intervals, often sporadically throughout the day. In contrast, true labor contractions follow a regular pattern and become more frequent and intense over time.
Lack of Pain: Braxton Hicks contractions are usually painless or only mildly uncomfortable. They may cause tightening or pressure in the abdomen but are not typically associated with severe pain.
Temporary Relief: Changing your position, resting, or taking a warm bath can often alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions. True labor contractions persist regardless of your actions.
Why Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Occur?
The exact cause of Braxton Hicks contractions is not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to their occurrence:
Uterine Muscles Preparing: These contractions may help the uterine muscles tone and prepare for labor. They serve as a form of “practice” for the real thing.
Dehydration: Dehydration can increase the likelihood of Braxton Hicks contractions. Staying well-hydrated is essential during pregnancy.
Physical Activity: Overexertion or strenuous physical activity can trigger these contractions in some women. Rest and moderation in exercise are advisable.
Full Bladder: A full bladder can irritate the uterus and lead to Braxton Hicks contractions. Emptying your bladder regularly can help.
Managing Braxton Hicks Contractions
While Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy, here are some tips for managing them:
Drinking plenty of water can reduce the frequency of Braxton Hicks contractions.
If you experience these contractions, changing your position or lying down on your left side may provide relief.
Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or gentle massage, can help ease discomfort.