Among the less-than-fun pregnancy symptoms, like surprise leg cramps, emotional swings, intense heartburn, and nausea, you may want to include Braxton Hicks Contractions. It’s described as a leg cramp but in your uterus, a belly tightening sensation, lower abdominal discomfort, or menstrual cramps. And then another one.
Am I in … LABOR?
No need to sound the alarm quite yet. Braxton Hicks contractions, better known as false labor pains, although alarming, do not necessarily mean that baby is coming today. It’s a dress rehearsal preparing your body for the main event or building your uterus muscle tone just like exercising!
False labor pains, known as Braxton Hicks, are real contractions that prepare your body for real or true labor. They can begin as early as your second trimester, but most women experience them in the third trimester. Women report that you experience them sooner with subsequent pregnancies.
The true cause is unknown. Many women report experiencing Braxton-Hick contractions when they are cleaning or overexerting themselves, not drinking enough water, and/or during sex (YES, YOU CAN HAVE SEX WHEN PREGNANT). The contractions do eventually calm down, but how do you know if it is Braxton Hicks contractions versus active labor.
The true cause is unknown, but many women report experiencing Braxton-Hick contractions when they are cleaning or overexerting themselves, not drinking enough water, and/or during sex (YES, YOU CAN HAVE SEX WHEN PREGNANT). The contractions do eventually calm down, but how do you know if it is Braxton Hicks contractions versus active labor.
How to Distinguish Braxton Hicks from Active Labor?
- How often are the contractions? Braxton Hicks contractions are non-rhythmic or irregular. This means that they do not come at regular intervals or they are not predictable when you time how often you’re feeling the contractions.
- Are the contractions consistent? Braxton Hicks are inconsistent and maybe a few seconds to a few minutes long.
- Do the contractions change with movement? Oftentimes, when you change positions (i.e. sit or lay down), drink water, and/or rest, the Braxton Hicks contractions will disappear.
- What do the contractions feel like? Braxton Hicks contractions typically are not painful. In fact, many people describe them as lower abdomen discomfort (similar to menstrual cramps), a tightening sensation of the belly, and/or groin (round ligament pain) discomfort.
What are Common Signs of Active Labor?
- Loss of your mucus plug or a bloody show – During pregnancy, a mucus plug keeps the opening of the cervix closed. It prevents bad bacteria from entering the uterus. It looks like a pink or red cork. The loss of your mucus plug means the cervix is thinning and relaxing or getting ready for true labor. Loss of your mucus plug does not always mean active labor, but its near.
- Water breaks – The movies always depict a dramatic gushing of liquid, however, for most women it is like a gradual leak. For my first baby it happened while I was sleeping and during active labor for my other 2 babies. The fluid is typically clear and has no smell. This can happen before or during labor. If the fluid has a color or an odor, its meconium (baby poop) or you have an infection.
- Labor contractions – the contractions are increasing in pain, you experience lower back pain with the contractions, the timing is predictable, they last progressively longer, changing positions or drinking water does not stop the contractions, and rest does not stop the contractions.
With any signs of true labor, especially if before 38 weeks of pregnancy, your should call your healthcare provider so you can receive further instructions.
Braxton Hicks Treatments
- Rest – Because Braxton Hicks often occurs with activity, sitting down or lying on your left-side (encourages better blood flow to baby) can calm the contractions. You can even try taking a nap or a warm bath.
- Hydration – If you did not drink at least 10-8 ounces of water (recommendations during pregnancy), chugging a few glasses of water can alleviate the contractions. I personally found that drinking coconut water was also very helpful to ensure you are hydrated.
- Supplements – when you lack certain vitamins and minerals, you can also experience more contractions, so taking your prenatal vitamins (if you forgot to take them for the day) can also sometimes stop your contractions.
If none of these methods are helping, call your healthcare provider so you can receive further instructions. There are other reasons you could be experiencing contractions such as a urinary tract infection or premature labor.
Trust your instincts, if you feel something is not right or you are concerned, call your healthcare provider. Do not feel like a bother or annoying and do not feel embarrassed, they are here to help assist you.