I have an irritable uterus.
Frankly, I think that is a name that only a male could have come up as it’s rather less than complimentary to my poor uterus. The short explanation is that while I’m not pregnant my uterus is as happy as a clam. It’s only when I’m with child that it becomes irritable. And its irritability presents itself with excessive (and early) Braxton Hicks contractions.
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What are Braxton Hicks
The first time you’re expecting a baby it can be overwhelming how many things you need to prepare for. There is stuff to buy, a nursery to prepare and prenatal classes to take. But how do you prepare your body for labour? Through practice, practice, practice – and it’s something your body does to gear up for the main event.
Braxton Hicks are practice contraction, non-regular tightening of your uterus. Unlike exercises such as Kegels, these are something that your body does on its own with no prompting from you.
What do they feel like?
If you’re currently pregnant poke your belly. Even if you’re ready to pop and feel as big as a horse your belly will still feel slightly soft. But have you ever had a time when your belly felt as firm as a drum? That’s a Braxton hick.
They typically start to occur at about 20 weeks of pregnancy and are more frequent and noticeable in the third trimester. With my second pregnancy, I started getting them at 16 weeks so it is possible to have them earlier in the pregnancy. With my third pregnancy, I got my first Braxton Hicks at 12 weeks.
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What causes them?
Braxton Hicks are thought to be caused by pregnancy hormones though the exact cause is not known. Dehydration can also be a cause. In my case movement was also a factor.
How can I stop them?
Drink more: as stated above dehydration is a factor in how many Braxton hicks you have. I also have a water bottle on me during pregnancy and by my third trimester, I was drinking several liters of water a day. Making sure all that water didn’t keep me up all night running to the bathroom to pee was a fine balance. I found that if I started my water consumption strong in the morning and then tapered off during the day I could usually get through the night with only the occasional bathroom interruption.
Move: If a Braxton Hicks contraction is painful; try moving to another position.
Rest: If you’re like me then stopping the activity you’re currently doing (like walking or unloading the dishwasher) will help them go away. By the third trimester, I was having consistent Braxton Hicks (every 5 mins for 2-6 hours) if I tried to do anything resembling a normal routine. At 30 weeks it was suggested that I go on modified bed rest (read house arrest). This is not the norm and it’s unlikely that your Braxton Hicks will be anything more than mild nuisance.
Braxton Hicks vs True Contractions
Braxton Hicks are practice contractions and do not dilate your cervix. However, they can be painful and can feel like the real thing (almost).
Here are a few ways to tell if you’re having Braxton Hicks or true contractions.
Braxton Hicks: are irregular and infrequent. They’re usually pretty short (15-30 seconds). They do not increase in frequency, become regular or increase in duration and intensity. They should go away if you drink water, rest or change positions.
True Contractions: are regular and frequent. They are longer than Braxton Hicks (30-80 seconds) and will increase in intensity. True contractions feel more like menstrual cramps rather than just a tightening of the belly and they will not go away with water or a change of position.
The general rule of thumb is if you have more than four Braxton Hicks in an hour to call your doctor just to on the safe side.
When Braxton Hicks go bad
Remember that irritable uterus I mentioned? Well, here’s the extreme case of what can happen when you have too many Braxton Hicks.
With my first pregnancy, I had frequent Braxton Hicks but was able to go about my normal routine if a bit slower than normal. I delivered my daughter 2 days before her due date.
With my second pregnancy, I started getting Braxton Hicks at about 16 weeks. By about 26 weeks I was getting Braxton Hicks anytime I did anything physical and they would only stop if I stopped moving and sat down.
At 30 weeks I ended up with Braxton Hicks that would not end when I stopped moving. After 3 hours of regular (ever 5 min) Braxton Hicks we headed to the hospital to things checked out. Luckily they have a test nowadays which can tell if you’re in early labour and mine came back negative. That being said I was told by my doctor that my body was sending me a message and that I should go onto modified bedrest (read house arrest). For the next 8 weeks, the only time I got to leave the house was for doctor appointments. My extended family stepped in and helped me care for our toddler as I’m a stay at home more. Even with the help I often had evenings where I would be in bed with Braxton Hicks coming every 5-10 mins for up to 8 hours straight. I won’t lie; it was stressful especially before 35 weeks. However, I didn’t deliver until 38.5 weeks and I had a healthy baby boy.
My Braxton Hicks were stressful and annoying as hell but I will always be grateful that with every check up I had I always had the report that I was carrying a perfectly healthy baby. My body may not have enjoyed being pregnant but at least it didn’t affect my little boy.
Online Prenatal Class
Pregnant and need to take a prenatal class? Hilary from Pulling curls is an experienced labour and delivery nurse and she offers an online prenatal class. She also offers a free beginning prenatal course.
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