In one of my pregnancy posts, I mentioned how the body prepares you for birth by making the uterus contract. These contractions are called Braxton Hicks which was named after the English Physician John Braxton Hicks who first described them. Back in 1872, he carried out an investigation on the later stages of pregnancy and noted that many women felt contractions without ready to give birth.
During mid-pregnancy, you will experience your uterus tightening up which is your body’s way of preparing for the big day. Braxton Hicks Contractions increase in frequency and strength as your pregnancy journey progresses. You may not feel ready for Motherhood just yet but your body is getting ready for labour and you are reminded of this each time you feel your uterus tightening up.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
Braxton Hicks Contractions are like a rehearsal. Your uterine muscles are flexing in preparation for the big job they’ll be doing in the near future. They can be hard to distinguish from the real thing, they’re not strong enough to push your baby out the way the real labour contractions do.
What causes it?
Pregnancy hormones are very hard at work sending messages to your body to start the birthing process.
When do they start?
Braxton Hicks contractions can start any time after week 20 of pregnancy in the second trimester but they are more noticeable in the third trimester. They’ll increase through week 32 all the way until real Labour starts.
What do Braxton Hicks Contractions feel like?
Braxton Hicks Contractions start off as uncomfortable but painless tightening that begins at the top of the uterine muscles and spreads downwards. This causes the abdomen to become rigid and strangely contorted like almost pointed. When you get closer to your estimated due date, it will get more frequent and intense. If it’s your first pregnancy, you might not notice them as much or not at all or you may end up feeling them intensely as Mums-to-be who are experiencing their second pregnancy. But even first time Mums are aware of them.
Braxton Hicks V Real Labour Contractions
Braxton Hicks Contractions are irregular and infrequent. They last about 15-30 seconds but can last up to two mins and can ease when you change positions.
Real labour pains are regular and grow stronger, longer and closer together as you approach labour. They can last around 30 to 70 seconds and they don’t ease if you change positions. It has been described as very strong menstrual cramp but 10 times worse. The purpose of labour contractions is to thin and dilate the cervix, whereas Braxton Hicks contractions are just practice for the real thing.
Real contractions may be accompanied by other common labour signs e.g pinkish or blood streaked discharge known as Bloody Show which is bleeding that occurs at the end of pregnancy as the body prepares for labour and it’s also a sign the mucus plug has loosened or dislodged.
The mucus plug is the cork sealing off the uterus from the outside world. It can come out in large piece (it looks similar as the mucus in your nose) or it can come out in little pieces, though you may not see it. Some women don’t lose it before delivery. You’ll know they’re real contractions if your water breaks or you lose the mucus plug. Discharge can also increase at the end of pregnancy and the mucus plug can be a part of that. The Bloody show isn’t always a dramatic affair as sometimes it can just be a blood tinged discharge. If can be so slight that you may not even notice.
If your contractions are increasing in intensity and frequency and you will notice more than four in an hour, you are definitely in true labour. Call the ambulance and your Midwife right away especially if you aren’t 39 weeks pregnant and at risk of premature labour.