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What Is Braxton-Hicks Contractions Or False Labour Pain? Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

Braxton-Hicks contractions or false labour pain are referred to as contractions of the uterus that occurs mainly during the second or third trimesters. Experts say that it is basically the body's way of preparing for true labour. However, it is not an indication of the beginning of the labour.

Many pregnant women are not aware of this contraction type and often end up with unnecessary evaluation and management of the condition. This makes educating the patient very important about the condition. Also, the condition can be uncomfortable for pregnant women, although not painful.

In this article, we will discuss Braxton-Hicks contractions in detail. Take a look.

Causes Of Braxton-Hicks Contractions

The exact cause of Braxton-Hicks contractions is unknown, however, experts suggest that it is mainly caused due to tightening and relaxing of the uterus muscle fibres. Some of the factors that may trigger this contraction type are full bladder, sexual activity, being active for longer hours and dehydration. [1]

Braxton-Hicks contractions occur mainly with the motive to increase blood flow to the placenta and improve their oxygenation. It may also help in toning the uterine muscles and preparing them for the birth process. Some studies also say that Braxton Hicks contractions help in cervical softening for easy delivery of the baby.

How Do Braxton-Hicks Contractions Feel?

  • Braxton Hicks contractions are occasional, less in strength, unpredictable and irregular in duration, intensity and frequency. [2]
  • It may feel like a tightening of the stomach, like a mild period cramp.
  • The tightening is mainly on the top of the uterine muscle that spread to the bottom areas.
  • Changing positions or activities may cause these contractions to stop.
  • Sometimes, the stomach tends to become abnormally pointy due to the contractions.

Difference Between Braxton-Hicks Contractions And True Labour

Some of the differences between Braxton-Hicks Contractions and true labour may include: [3]

Braxton-Hicks Contractions True Labour
It is irregular. It comes at regular intervals.
With time they do not close together, meaning the second contraction comes after a long gap. With time, they get close together and occur within a short time gap.
They are unpredictable as sometimes they last for less than 30 seconds and sometimes for up to two minutes. They are predictable and often lasts between 30-90 seconds and become longer with time.
They are weak and may get weaker or disappear with progress in gestation. They get stringer with progress in gestation.
They are felt only in the stomach or a specific area. They are felt all around the stomach.
With a change in position or activities, they may disappear. They may get stronger with movement or change in position.
It may start at around six weeks of pregnancy, but felt after the second or third trimester. It usually starts around 40 weeks of pregnancy. When it starts at the 37th week, it may indicate preterm labour.

Note: In extreme cases, examining the cervix may reveal whether the contractions are Braxton-Hicks or true. If there is no dilation of the cervix along with no uterine bleeding or rupture of the amniotic membrane, it is Braxton-Hicks Contractions.

In true labour, the upper portion of the uterus may get tightened to allow the baby to be pushed downwards for delivery. Also, the cervix will dilate.

Diagnosis Of Braxton-Hicks Contractions

There are no specific radiographic or laboratory tests to diagnose Braxton-Hicks contractions. A medical expert may physically examine the stomach of pregnant women and look for signs of contraction. [4]

Sometimes, the condition may also get confused with other conditions like ascites (too much fluid build-up in the abdomen), ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids.

Treatment Of Braxton-Hicks Contractions

Braxton-Hicks contractions are not a life-threatening condition related to pregnancy. It is often considered a normal process during gestation and a sign of healthy pregnancy. The best treatment a medical expert may offer is informing or teaching pregnant women about the occurrence of such contractions, which could help prevent sudden anxiety.

Other methods to manage the condition may include taking a warm bath, changing positions, taking a nap, listening to music, drinking water or taking a good relaxing massage.

To Conclude

Though Braxton-Hicks contractions are considered a part of pregnancy with no severe outcomes, it is suggested to consult a medical expert if the contractions get intense and strong much before the delivery date. Also, if you notice signs of vaginal bleeding, discharge of vaginal fluid or noticeable fetal movement, consult the expert soon.

Image Sources: Freepik and Pexels

How do I know if I’m having contractions or Braxton Hicks?

If the contraction is irregular, not close together, unpredictable, in the stomach front portion and less in strength, it could be Braxton-Hicks contractions. These contractions mainly start around six weeks of gestation and get weaker as the gestation progresses.

Do frequent Braxton Hicks mean labour soon?

No, Braxton-Hicks contractions do not indicate early labour or that the labour has begun. It is mainly a way for the body to prepare for delivery. Unlike Braxton-Hicks contractions, true labour can be more intense and strong.

When should I be concerned about Braxton Hicks?

Braxton-Hicks contractions can be concerning if they get intense, frequent and stronger, especially in the mid of trimesters, followed by vaginal bleeding or discharge and noticeable fetal movement.