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Understanding Braxton Hicks Contractions: Everything You Need to Know

During pregnancy, women experience various physical changes as their bodies prepare for childbirth. One common occurrence is Braxton Hicks contractions. These contractions can be confusing, especially if you're pregnant for the first time. In this blog post, we will delve into the nature of Braxton Hicks contractions, why they happen, their purpose, when they typically occur, and what to do if you experience them.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions, often referred to as "practice contractions" or "false labour," are intermittent contractions of the uterus that can occur during pregnancy. They are named after the English physician who first described them in the 19th century, John Braxton Hicks. Unlike true labour contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions do not indicate the onset of labour or cervical dilation.

When do Braxton Hicks happen?

Braxton Hicks can begin as early as the second trimester, but they are more commonly experienced during the third trimester. They tend to increase in frequency as the pregnancy progresses, and some women may not experience them at all. Each woman's experience with Braxton Hicks can vary.

Why do Braxton Hicks contractions occur?

The exact cause of Braxton Hicks contractions is not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to their occurrence. Some possible reasons include:

a) Uterine muscle stretching: as the uterus expands and prepares for the growing baby, the muscle fibers may contract and relax sporadically, resulting in Braxton Hicks contractions.

b) Increased blood flow: the increased blood flow to the uterus during pregnancy can stimulate contractions.

c) Dehydration or full bladder: dehydration or having a full bladder can sometimes trigger Braxton Hicks contractions. Staying hydrated and emptying your bladder regularly may help alleviate their occurrence.

What is the point of Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions serve several purposes, including:

a) Uterine muscle toning: these contractions help prepare the uterine muscles for labour and delivery, improving their efficiency during the actual process.

b) Blood circulation: the contractions promote blood circulation within the uterus, ensuring the baby receives a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients.

c) Practice for labour: Braxton Hicks contractions provide an opportunity to experience and become familiar with the sensations of uterine contractions before actual labour begins.

What should you do if Braxton Hicks contractions occur?

If you experience Braxton Hicks contractions, here are some tips to consider:

a) Practice relaxation techniques: deep breathing, changing positions, or taking a warm bath can help alleviate discomfort.

b) Hydrate: drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, as dehydration can sometimes trigger or worsen contractions.

c) Empty your bladder: a full bladder can irritate the uterus, so make sure to empty it regularly.

d) Distinguish between Braxton Hicks and true labour contractions: if you're unsure whether you're experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions or true labor contractions, contact your midwife, they can provide guidance and advice based on your specific situation.

Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy and serve as a preparation for labor. Whilst they can be uncomfortable, they are typically harmless and different from true labour contractions. By understanding their nature, knowing when they happen, their purpose, and how to manage them, you can navigate through this stage of pregnancy with more confidence. Remember to consult your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions about your contractions or pregnancy.

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