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Braxton Hicks Contractions: Causes and Tips

Question from the Mama Files: "I know it's early but I'm already experiencing some Braxton Hicks. Is that normal?"-mother of five, 25 weeks pregnant

My short answer: "Normal, yes. And a sign to drink more water and rest."

For those of us who require more words, let's expound, shall we?

What are Braxton Hicks Contractions, exactly?

Let's scale it way back and talk about contractions in general. First, your baby rests comfortably nestled in your uterus, inside the sac of amniotic fluid. The uterus contracts in order for baby to make their way down and through cervix and birth canal. The contractions dilate the cervix and move the baby. This means the muscles of your uterus pull tightly, much like your bicep muscle does when doing bicep curls. This strong pulling of your uterus muscles, the contracting of the muscles, are what we have shorthanded to call, simply, contractions. In labor, the birthing mother often refers to early contractions as feeling "crampy," much like period cramps. (As early labor flows into active labor, this sensation often changes drastically.)

Braxton Hicks are contractions of your uterus that often occur in the third trimester and can also occur in the second trimester, though not as common. These contractions generally are painless, not crampy, and may last between 30-60 seconds or longer and are not associated with dilation of the cervix. (Braxton Hicks sometimes do soften and efface the cervix). Moms experience Braxton Hicks as a tightening of the belly. I like to look at them as a way for your uterus to get a mini-workout as it tones itself (gets stronger) for the big day.

FUN FACT: Braxton Hicks got their name from an English doctor named John Braxton Hicks in 1872 as he described contractions of the uterus that happen before a mother is in labor.

What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?

As mentioned, Braxton Hicks can be completely normal and a way for your uterus to tone itself before labor. Some other reasons include:

  • Dehydration

  • Lots of activity (mother or baby)

  • A full bladder

  • Orgasm

What Should I Do?

Think of these so-called "practice contractions" as a beautiful opportunity to practice your breathing and pain-coping techniques you'll use in early and active labor. If you realize you haven't prepared quite yet, listen up to your body and devise your pain-coping plan. Nothing beats quality in-person birth classes with a focus on pain-coping practices. A quality online birth class that teaches pain management might be a better fit for some with time constraints or childcare restrictions, or if you can't attend a live class for other reasons (coming soon to Mindful Birth Services). Pain-coping practices include breath-work, mindfulness practices, visualizations and self-hypnosis, hands-on techniques such as the double-hip squeeze and Spinning Babies practices, and more. Some other ways to handle Braxton Hicks:

  • Drink a glass or two of ice water or orange juice

  • Rest; take a warm bath

  • Change your position (lie down on your left side, try hands and knees, sit on a birth ball)

  • Empty your bladder often

  • Anticipate Braxton Hicks contractions after sex (a normal response to the flood of oxytocin in your system after orgasm)

  • If you are concerned for any reason, contact your midwife or doctor

TIP: Remember, Braxton Hicks are normal and may increase in frequency as you approach your due date. They are generally painless and irregular in frequency although mothers may experience them as uncomfortable tightening. You can tell if they are early labor contractions if they get longer, stronger and closer together over a period of time. The only way to tell is through hindsight. If you're not sure, contact your doula for advice, it's what she's there for!

If you've already had your baby, tell me how you handled Braxton Hicks Contractions. I'd love to hear your best tips and who knows, maybe you'll pay it forward and help another birthing mother! If you have a friend who is pregnant, send this post their way!

If you found this article helpful, l'd love it if you would take a moment and leave us a comment below and share on Facebook with your pregnant and birthy friends!

-Christine and the Mindful Birth Doulas

P.S. For even more posts on labor stages, choosing your birth attendant, deciding who to invite to your birth and more, click on the "Blog" section here or on our website!

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