In the last few weeks of pregnancy many women experience Braxton Hicks, or false labor, contractions. They can actually begin as early as 20 weeks but are less noticeable at first. They become more apparent in the ninth month.
Braxton Hicks contractions were first described by Dr. John Braxton Hicks in 1872 as irregular, sporadic contractions of the uterus. They do not cause cervical change and therefore as often referred to as false labor. They mostly occur in the late afternoon or evening after a long day of physical activity or after or during intercourse. Sometimes you can see them and your belly may look lopsided or pointy. They can also be triggered by the baby’s movement, dehydration or position. They are usually painless but can sometimes cause mild to moderate discomfort. Changing your position, getting a good rest, or drinking water can help them stop.
Distinguishing Braxton Hicks from true labor can be relatively simple. Braxton Hicks are generally painless or weak and do not become more intense over time. They are irregular in timing and usually disappear over time unlike true labor contractions which are regular and become more intense and frequent over time. Keep in mind, however, that every woman and every pregnancy is different so if you are unsure of what is happening, it is best to contact your healthcare provider. The following is a list of warning or danger signs that can signal true labor or something more serious:
- More than 4 Braxton Hicks in one hour
- A sensation of fluid leaking, vaginal spotting or vaginal bleeding
- The pain becoming more intense or more frequent
- Less fetal movement than usual
- You are less than 37 weeks and think it might be true labor
- You feel uncomfortable or worried as to what you are feeling
- You have fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, or painful urination
There are several speculations for why women experience Braxton Hicks. Some theories say that it is the uterus preparing itself for labor by increasing blood flow to different areas. As pregnancy nears to an end, Braxton Hicks can help trigger cervical changes, such as dilatation and effacement and lead to true labor. Whatever the reason, it is important to pay attention to your body and what it is telling you. Keep a record of how often and how intense your contractions become. If you have any question about whether or not you are in true labor or experience any of those danger signs previously discussed, contact your healthcare provider or go to the labor and delivery department of the nearest hospital.