Braxton Hicks

There is an old adage that says “practice makes perfect”. Nothing rings truer than practice in preparation for a baby. As soon as parents to be find out they are expecting, they begin to practice for the new life that awaits them. They practice swaddling, changing diapers, infant CPR and first aid; they even practice breathing and relaxation techniques to help prepare them for labor. What many people don’t realize is as parents are trying frantically to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for the process that is about to take place, the mother’s body is also doing a little practicing of its own. A woman’s body has an amazing way of preparing her to give birth. Braxton Hicks contractions, or false labor, are the way the uterus practices for the process that will eventually result in the baby being born. These contractions usually feel like the tightening of the abdomen; a lot like menstrual cramps. These contractions can be so mild that the woman doesn’t notice them, or they can be so strong that she believes that she is truly in labor. How does one know the difference between false labor and the real thing?

Practice contractions are called Braxton Hicks because it was Dr. John Braxton Hicks who first defined the contractions that come prior to labor. According to the American Pregnancy Association, these contractions can begin as early as the second trimester, but are usually most common in the third. They can last anywhere from thirty seconds to two minutes, and are characterized by the tightening of the uterus at irregular intervals. Other signs that a woman may be experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions as opposed to real labor are:

*They are irregular in intensity.

*They are non-rhythmic.

*They are merely uncomfortable, rather than painful.

*They are unpredictable and they will taper off or stop altogether.

For a woman who is experiencing true labor, the contractions will become more frequent and grow in intensity. They do not stop or change by moving or switching positions, and there is a definite pattern to them. It can be confusing to an first-time mother, not knowing what to expect, it’s easy for her to jump at every little hiccup or cramp. If she is in doubt as to whether or not what she is feeling is true labor, she should try drinking a glass of water and lay down with her feet up. If this does not help she should call her doctor, especially if she is not yet full term. Braxton Hicks are not believed to be connected to the dilation of the cervix; they are the bodies way of preparing and, if nothing else, it can be a good time for the mother to practice her breathing and relaxations techniques. “Practice makes perfect” and practicing for labor and birth is no exception.