Contractions: Are These the Real Thing?

During the third trimester, some women experience “false” contractions called Braxton-Hicks contractions. This is a normal occurrence, and like real labor contractions, they may increase in frequency and intensity, making you worry that you are going into premature labor. But unlike true labor, these contractions don’t grow consistently longer, stronger, and closer together.

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image from Women Health Tips

How to tell if it’s preterm labor: True labor contractions show a definite pattern. Employ the 1-5-1 formula: if your contractions last at least one minute, are five minutes (or less) apart, and continue for at least one hour you are, most likely, in labor. (This would mean you should alert your health-care provider immediately.) Braxton-Hicks contractions come and go and don’t settle into a regular pattern. Don’t forget to practice relaxing and breathing with these trial-run contractions. (Dr. Sears)

If you are within a few weeks of your due date, but the Braxton Hicks contractions are making you uncomfortable, try these measures:

  • Change your activity or position. If you’ve been sitting or laying down, try walking around. If you’re been  moving a lot, resting may provide relief. (On the other hand, true labor contractions will progress regardless of what you do.)
  • Take a warm bath to help your body relax.
  • Drink water; these contractions are sometimes brought on by dehydration.
  • Relaxation exercises and slow, deep breathing may help you cope with the discomfort.

Should I call the doctor?

If you haven’t reached 37 weeks yet, and are having more than four contractions in an hour, or contractions are becoming more frequent, rhythmic, or painful, call your caregiver immediately.  In this case, it’s better to play it safe and don’t try to make the diagnosis yourself. Preterm labor is not something to take chances with. Other possible signs of preterm labor:

  • Abdominal pain, menstrual-like cramping, or more than four contractions in an hour (even if they don’t hurt)
  • Any vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • An increase in vaginal discharge or a change in the type of discharge — if it becomes watery, mucusy, or bloody (even if it’s only pink or blood-tinged)
  • Increased pelvic pressure (a feeling that your baby’s pushing down)
  • Low back pain, especially if it’s a new problem for you

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