Braxton Hicks Contractions: Is It Labor or a False Alarm?

Birth contractions or the tightening feeling in the belly are among the most common labor signs. However, not every contraction means that the labor has started and birth is close. Understanding this concept might prevent unnecessary panic and rush to the hospital, which is especially important in women without previous birth experience.

Key takeaways:
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    True birth contractions help the cervix to dilate and push the baby out, while false contractions are not strong or consistent enough to achieve enough tension in the uterus.
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    Unawareness of differentiating between true and false contractions may result in needless panic, unnecessary hospital visitations, or failure to reach the hospital on time.
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    Braxton Hicks or false contractions are generally short, inconsistent, and less painful than birth contractions.

What are contractions?

Contractions are felt as the tightening of uterine muscle fibers. True labor contractions are strong enough to gradually "pull up" the uterus muscles. This force "drags" the cervical muscle and eventually dilates the path for delivery. Later, the pressure coming with each contraction pushes the baby out of the birth canal.

Naturally, this elaborate work requires exceptionally strong and consistent contractions. Although each woman describes their experiences differently, false contractions may occur almost in all pregnancies.

Why do false contractions happen?

Although the etiology of false contractions is unknown, several conditions have been associated with the initiation of symptoms. It is considered that circumstances leading to decreased blood flow to the placenta may trigger contractions in an effort to compensate for the supply shortage. Sexual intercourse, overwhelming physical activity, or dehydration of the mother are among the known triggers.

Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes considered a practice of the uterus for labor. These contractions prepare the womb by toning the muscles, although they do not result in the cervical opening.

When might you experience Braxton Hicks contractions?

False contractions might be felt as early as the second trimester of pregnancy. However, the most commonly reported period is the third trimester. These symptoms are more confusing and worrisome, especially for first-time mothers when they occur at the end of the third trimester.

Am I in labor? How do I differentiate contractions?

As a rule of thumb, true contractions are predictable and follow a clear pattern. They last 30 to 90 seconds and reoccur at regular intervals. These intervals start from 7 to 10 minutes and shorten as time goes on. The intensity of contractions also steadily increases.

False contractions do not follow these rules. They last for a maximum of 2 minutes and may appear irregularly. The intensity of the pain varies and even may disappear with rest and sleep, while the pain coming with labor contractions wouldn't allow you to fall asleep.

The location of pain also would be different in true labor contractions. It would start from the midback and would accumulate in the belly. With this contraction, the belly will be felt as a "hardened ball." However, in false contractions, the pain would be all in the front of the abdomen and generally localized to a particular part of it.

How can I alleviate the pain coming with false contractions?

Since it is assumed that false contractions occur due to fetal distress, general relaxing actions are recommended to help with the pain and discomfort coming from Braxton Hicks. If you have been overwhelmingly active, lying down would be recommended. If you've been inactive for a prolonged period, walking in fresh air might be helpful to decrease contractions. Drinking water is also advised, as dehydration may trigger symptoms.

However, if contractions intensify and occur more frequently, it is recommended to contact your healthcare provider, as it could be labor contractions and may lead to cervical dilation.

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