Like the old saying goes, practice makes perfect! Your delivery is no different. Braxton Hicks contractions prepare your body for the real event. These contractions are defined as sporadic uterine contractions that can start as early as 6 weeks into your pregnancy (however you usually do not feel them that early on). As you progress further into your pregnancy you more than likely will experience Braxton Hicks contractions more often. Typically, it’s not until your last few weeks of pregnancy that they are more pronounced. These contractions are named after the English doctor John Braxton Hicks (1823-1897) who was the first to describe the contractions in medical literature.
It is important for moms to know the difference between true labor and Braxton Hicks contractions. With these contractions, the muscles of the uterus tighten for approximately 30 to 60 seconds and occasionally as long as 2 minutes. The following are indicative of Braxton Hicks contractions:
- Irregular in intensity
- More uncomfortable than painful (although for some women Braxton Hicks can feel painful)
- They do not increase in intensity or frequency
- They taper off and then disappear altogether
As these practice contractions intensify closer to your delivery, they are often referred to as false labor. False labor can help the dilation and effacement process. It can be difficult to distinguish between Braxton Hicks contractions and symptoms of pre-term labor. The following are symptoms of pre-term labor:
- Backache, which usually will be in your lower back. This may be constant or come and go, but it won’t ease even if you change positions or do something else for comfort.
- Contractions every 10 minutes or more often
- Cramping in your lower abdomen or menstrual-like cramps. These can feel like gas pains that may come with diarrhea.
- Fluid leaking from your vagina
- Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Call your doctor even about mild cases. If you can’t tolerate liquids for more than 8 hours, you must see your doctor.
- Increased pressure in your pelvis or vagina
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding, including light bleeding
It is strongly recommended that you contact your physician right away to properly diagnosis the cause of your contractions. The main difference between false labor and true labor is that with false labor the contractions are not as consistently longer, stronger, and closer together.
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