If this is your first pregnancy, you understandably have a lot of questions. One of the most common situations new moms run into that causes anxiety is experiencing false labor pains, otherwise known as Braxton Hicks contractions. Because they can occur as early as the second trimester, many of my patients worry that something is seriously wrong or they’re beginning true labor prematurely. Well, the good news is Braxton Hicks contractions aren't indicative of anything dangerous. In fact, they’re perfectly normal.
Helping the Body Prepare for Birth
During pregnancy, your body does a lot of work to get ready to have your baby. Your hips will spread to make delivery easier. Your uterus will harden to protect the baby. Your blood volume doubles to help protect you from some delivery risks and to contribute to the optimal growth and development of your baby.
To get ready for delivery, your body also practices contractions. This is what we refer to as Braxton Hicks contractions. They can start six weeks into a pregnancy, but usually not until the second or third trimester. They are typically infrequent and irregular and cause a mild cramping sensation as your uterine muscles tighten. We believe these contractions exist to aid the body in preparation for birth.
How to Ease Discomfort
There isn't really anything you can take to stop the symptoms of Braxton Hicks contractions, but you can alleviate the discomfort. First and foremost, being dehydrated can lead to muscle cramps (and other serious issues), which can contribute to Braxton Hicks contractions. If you are experiencing morning sickness, or find it difficult to eat or drink, you may be dehydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of water during your pregnancy. This may alleviate your Braxton Hicks. As with regular contractions, it is believed that rhythmic breathing can also help lessen the discomfort caused by Braxton Hicks. Try breathing slowly and with a regular pattern through the contractions for some relief. Move around. For many women, changes in movement or position can make the contractions stop. For example, lying on your left side has been known to ease pain caused by Braxton Hicks. Though it may seem counterintuitive, taking a walk can also help alleviate contractions. Finally, after you've finished drinking water, to help avoid triggering Braxton Hicks contractions, make sure your bladder is empty, too.
Is there Cause for Concern?
Braxton Hicks contractions may be painful, but they don’t cause labor. Remember these facts about Braxton Hicks contractions:
- They do not come at regular intervals.
- They do not get closer together.
- Walking, lying down or changing position can make them stop.
If you experience contractions that are coming at regular intervals, intensifying, getting closer together or do not stop by moving, call your physician. Some women don't call because they're worried about “bothering” their doctor. Don't feel this way! If you have any concerns, it's best to put them to rest by calling. It's also important to call your doctor if you're experiencing continuous fluid leaking, vaginal bleeding, strong contractions every 5 minutes or so for an hour, contractions you were unable to walk through, a noticeable change in your baby's movement, or what you believe may be true labor contractions.
Dr. Salinas is a board-certified OB/GYN specialist and Managing Physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Woman’s Center. His clinical interests include obstetrics and preventive gynecologic health, as well as minimally invasive office and surgical procedures.