Before you take on motherhood, you'll only hear in passing many of the staples of pregnancy and child rearing that by now may be common knowledge. Medical terms like 'flat head syndrome' or 'episiotomy' can sound frightening when you don't know what they are, but its important to remember that anything that could pose any real harm to you or your baby will always be explained to you by a GP or paediatrician. Braxton Hicks Contractions certainly have the scary name behind them, but in truth it's just one title for a fairly normal part of pregnancy. In this blog we'll explain what they are, how to identify them and the best way to deal with any potential discomfort.
Explaining Braxton Hicks Contractions
Named and discovered by the 1870's British doctor Braxton Hicks, this common occurrence in pregnancy is also called 'prodromal labour', 'practice contractions' or the more widely used term 'false labour'. Most simply, it's a side-effect of your body preparing itself to go into labour; tightening the uterine muscles for one to two minutes at a time. Unlike the real deal, it's not typically that painful - just a series of infrequent bouts of mild cramping. They are contractions in a real sense of the word, created by a release of the hormone oxytocin, just like actual labour, but the difference is these aren't strong enough to move you towards delivery.
How to Identify Braxton Hicks from actual labour
Not every pregnant woman will experience these contractions, and they won't occur in the same fashion for everyone. Typically they can begin to happen as early as the second trimester, although they are more often felt during the third. As we said, their pattern is most irregular, which is a good way to distinguish them from the more routine occurrence of actual contractions. All you'll really feel is your abdomen tighten, and unlike real labour this doesn't get more noticeable as it progresses.
Many women say they just feel like mild menstrual cramps, but if you find the sensation a little too strange for comfort, don't be afraid to ask your doctors. Though films and TV have created this idea that false labour can easily be mistaken for the actual beginnings of childbirth, it's often a lot easier to distinguish. If they've left you feeling a little uncertain though, call your doctor as soon as you have the slightest worry you may be going into labour - often they can tell just by the immediacy of your voice.
Ways to Relieve any Discomfort
Whilst the contractions themselves are not painful, they can be an unwanted nuisance on top of the many disliked parts of being pregnant. If Braxton Hicks Contractions are making you feel just a little too uncomfortable, dehydration is what makes the muscles spasm and bring on the sporadic sensation, so logically hydration is the best way to alleviate them. Other tried and recommended methods include taking a walk, getting a bit more sleep, finding a proper way to relax (e.g. massage, lukewarm bath) and lying down on your left side.
What to do if you are feeling pain outside of Labour
One other common discomfort of pregnancy is round ligament pain. This condition is most likely caused by the uterus expanding to accommodate the growing fetus. During any physical exertion, such as standing up, rolling over, peeing or even coughing & sneezing, the ligament is stretched, causing pain. The relation of this pain to movement is how to distinguish it from labour, and the best way to ease any discomfort is to change the position you're lying in, to support your abdomen when moving, to slow down your movements and to rest with a heating pad or to take a warm bath.
How would you describe the feeling of Braxton Hicks Contractions? Did they trick you at any point in believing you may have gone into labour? We'd like to hear your experiences, either here in the comments, or over at our Facebook page, on Twitter or through Google+.