By the time you reach the halfway point of your pregnancy, you will start to feel your tummy tightening up for a minute or so and then relaxing. What are these strange sensations and what purpose do they serve? How can you tell the difference between a Braxton-Hicks contraction and a true labor contraction?
Braxton-Hicks Contractions Feel Like a Tightening of Your Tummy
Many pregnant moms describe Braxton-Hicks contractions as a tightening rather than cramping sensation. Some may mistakenly think that their baby is curling up into a tight ball since the tightening sensation often feels like the baby curling or balling up rather than feeling like a “contraction.”
While not every mother would describe them the same way, Braxton-Hicks contractions typically do not feel like a menstrual cramp or a true labor contraction. Mothers can feel true labor contractions in many places (including lower abdomen, back, thighs and pelvic floor), the discomfort from Braxton-Hicks is only centered in your abdomen.
Braxton-Hicks Contractions Increase in Frequency with Pregnancy
As your pregnancy continues, you may even notice Braxton-Hicks contractions come and go with more frequency. It is normal to experience a few Braxton-Hicks every hour in the last few weeks of pregnancy as your uterus prepares for labor. Unlike labor contractions, they do not increase in intensity.
It is often disconcerting for mothers who are getting frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions during late pregnancy. How will they be able to tell the difference between these practice contractions and the real thing? It can help to know that contractions related to true labor will increase and change over time, whereas the Braxton-Hicks contractions only change with frequency.
Braxton-Hicks Contractions Occur With No Regular Pattern
Braxton-Hicks contractions are notorious for occurring without a predictable pattern as opposed to labor contractions which tend to be regular and consistent. For that reason, Braxton-Hicks contractions cannot be timed like labor contractions. At times, Braxton-Hicks contractions can be short, lasting only a few seconds. At other times, these contractions may continue for several minutes at a time.
Braxton-Hicks Contractions Prepare the Uterus for Labor
While it might seem that there is no real purpose for Braxton-Hicks contractions, they do serve to prepare your uterus for the many hours of labor. These sporadic but effective contractions help to tone the uterus much like an athlete who practices with stretching and regular workouts before a big sporting event.
Braxton-Hicks Provide Opportunities for Breathing and Relaxation Practice
Why not take advantage of these practice contractions to do your own rehearsal for labor? You might consider practicing some deep breathing exercises along with relaxation techniques that you have learned in your childbirth class any time you feel a Braxton-Hicks contraction occur? This may be a more realistic time for you to practice breathing and relaxation exercises rather than setting time aside when you have no sensations to guide you.