Are you in labor or are you merely experiencing practice contractions or Braxton Hicks contractions? Find out how to tell the difference -- and what to expect.
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Understading the Cause
Whether it's called "false labor," "practice contractions," or Braxton Hicks contractions (named for the 19th-century English doctor John Braxton Hicks, who first "discovered" them), you'll almost certainly experience this periodic tightening or hardening of your belly. These contractions, usually painless but occasionally quite uncomfortable, are your uterus's method of practicing for true labor. Braxton Hicks contractions may do some of the preliminary work of thinning and dilating your cervix. They usually first appear in the second trimester, around 20 weeks, though they may come earlier (and be more intense) if you have had a previous pregnancy.
Talking With Your Doctor
At your prenatal checkup, let your healthcare provider know that you are having these contractions, which tend to occur more often as your due date approaches. If, at any point, they are very frequent (more than 4 an hour), accompanied by back, pelvic, or abdominal pain, or come with vaginal discharge, call your practitioner immediately.
Ways to Find Relief
Drinking plenty of fluids may help, as dehydration can be a contributing factor in bringing on Braxton Hicks contractions. If you find the contractions uncomfortable, do your best to relax when they strike. Try lying down and relaxing, or getting up and walking around, and practice your breathing exercises until they pass.
Play it Safe
If you suspect you may have Braxton Hicks contractions, don't try to make the diagnosis yourself. If you haven't hit your 37-week mark, some contractions are still normal. By the time your countdown has reached a few weeks, your contractions should be more evenly spaced and more frequent. It's important to contact your doctor if you experience contractions that start in your lower back and move to the front of your abdomen (a true sign that Baby is coming).
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