Remember that Friends episode in which a pregnant Rachel was experiencing weird symptoms, so Joey took her to the hospital to get it checked out? While she was afraid she might be going into labor, it was discovered that she had experienced Braxton Hicks contractions. While Ross and the doctor seemed to think it was no big deal (Ross: “Most women don’t even feel ’em”), Rachel famously said, “No uterus, no opinion.”
So what are Braxton Hicks contractions anyway? While it might not initially feel like it, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), Braxton Hicks is basically harmless false labor. The term is named after the doctor who first described them back in 1872. Essentially, you can think of it as your uterus preparing for the birth of your baby.
What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
While they can start as early as the second trimester, Braxton Hicks usually occur near the end of the third trimester as your body is getting ready to welcome your bundle of joy. Some physicians and midwives believe that they play a part in toning the uterine muscle and promoting the flow of blood to the placenta in preparation for the real thing. But, don’t worry: Braxton Hicks won’t ultimately lead to delivery. You can think of them as “practice” contractions. Yay.
What causes these “practice” contractions?
For the most part there is no clear explanation why Braxton Hicks occur. Healthline reports they could be ignited by an active day, while the APA reports they can be triggered by anything from a full bladder, dehydration, or having sex. There’s really no rhyme or reason why some women experience them. However if you’ve been walking a lot near the end of your pregnancy, rushing around to get a million things done to prepare for your new little one or if you just orgasmed, then, don’t be surprised if you start to feel something funky down there. It’s perfectly normal if you initially freak out like Rachel did, but it’s important to remember that experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions is a natural part of pregnancy for many women. Think of it this way: you get to practice your breathing exercises.
What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?
You’ll feel a squeezing around the front of your abdomen that might scare you but it’s not super painful. At least not as much as the real thing. The discomfort that you feel is really the muscles of the uterus tightening. Typically, Braxton Hicks contractions last for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, and sometimes as long as two minutes. Your cervix might also thin out (like it will in real labor) but in most cases it won’t. Unlike real contractions, Braxton Hicks happen sporadically and don’t increase in frequency or intensity. Eventually they will taper off and disappear altogether. That’s when you know it’s not real contractions. It stops.
What you can do to alleviate the pain.
The APA suggests a variety of remedies to reduce Braxton Hicks symptoms. If you’ve been standing or sitting for a long period of time, you should try to switch it up to get more comfortable. Because they might occur due to dehydration, you should also ensure you’re filling up on water. Taking a warm bath for 30 minutes or less is another option. Essentially, you want to relax and indulge in some self-care as much as possible. When in doubt, contact your physician. And don’t forget to repeat Rachel’s words if anyone tells you Braxton Hicks aren’t a big deal. (They really aren’t, but it’s still super fun to say: “No uterus, no opinion.”)
Written by Brianne Hogan.