The Braxton Hicks contractions may appear as early as the second trimester of pregnancy but most often they can be felt starting with the third trimester.
They were discovered at the end of the 19th century by the English doctor John Braxton Hicks, who, while researching the various stages of pregnancy and labor, came across these uterine contractions, which he called “atypical” because they are not painful.
As the pregnant mother nears labor, she can feel her uterus contract intermittently for 20 to 40 seconds or even longer, with some contractions lasting up to 3-4 minutes. These early contractions are the so-called Braxton Hicks contractions.
Since they are not painful, they usually give no trouble and can often even pass unnoticed. It is said they are a way for the pregnant woman’s uterus to practice and get ready for labor and the actual birth. They can sometimes be a sign that the labor will start soon, as they help clear the cervix.
The Braxton Hicks contractions cannot be confused with the painful uterine contractions that start with labor and last throughout it. Pregnant women experience them as a “tightening” of the belly (of the uterus) that is painless and barely uncomfortable.
Unlike the painful uterine contractions experienced during labor, that are rhythmic and whose intensity increases with time, the Braxton Hicks contractions vary in intensity and duration.
The Braxton Hicks contractions are caused either by the movements of the fetus, which are increasingly noticeable from the third trimester, or by the contraction and lengthening of the uterine muscle fibers as the pregnancy advances and the fetus grows. Other causes are:
– sexual intercourse
– having a full bladder
– touching the belly
The Braxton Hicks contractions contribute to the toning of the uterine muscles, improving blood flow to the genital area, stimulate blood circulation through the placenta and thus contribute to the baby receiving more oxygen.
The Braxton Hicks contractions are not dangerous because they do not cause the cervix to dilate but they can make it more elastic and prepare it for the actual labor.
The Braxton Hicks contractions get more intense as the woman approaches the term, helping her body to get ready for giving birth.
If you experience such contractions it is recommended to:
– have a warm bath
– hydrate by drinking water or fresh juice
– adopt a relaxed body position
– breathe deeply and rhythmically