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Who the Heck is Braxton Hicks?

23 July 2007

Welcome to Pregnancy and Female Physiology 101. Your lesson this week is on Braxton Hicks contractions. There will be a pop quiz on Friday that will account for 10% of your grade.

John Braxton Hicks was an English gynecologist who first defined the pre-labor contractions back in 1872. Before that, they were called “ow” or “man, that feels weird.” They actually start at around six weeks, although most women can’t feel them until the second or third trimester — and some women don’t feel them at all! The standard medical definition of a Braxton Hicks contraction is “an intermittent, painless contraction that may occur every 10 to 20 minutes after the first trimester of pregnancy.”

I love that every time a man defines something that goes on with a woman’s body, any pain or discomfort associated with it is down-played or negated. PMS? Oh, that’s all in your head… Contractions? Well, of course those are painless until you’re actually in labor. And then they wonder why the stereotype of women threatening death to their partners during birth is so commonly overplayed.

If you ask women who do feel them, I’d be willing to bet that most (myself included) won’t describe them as completely painless. They usually don’t hurt, but a better word would be “uncomfortable” and sometimes just plain weird. Imagine what your abdominal muscles feel like when you do a really long, slow sit-up or crunch. Now imagine that you are just sitting there minding your own business working at your desk, driving down the road, or relaxing on the couch… and your lower abdomen suddenly clenches up and gives you that feeling all by itself with no warning. Sometimes they hurt and sometimes they just take your breath away from the pressure.

I have had them since the beginning of my second trimester. I think I’m more attuned to them because of the hospital incident back in April with my “kidney infection” that made me have a massive case of real, honest-to-God contractions… it was scary, not because of the pain but because I had no idea what was going on with Blueberry and I was afraid of losing him.

My BH contractions have definitely become more frequent as the pregnancy progresses. I would say I have them about every other day. Now that I’ve gotten as used to the way they feel as I’m ever going to, I kind of like them because I know they’re helping my body get ready for birth. It’s completely normal as long as they don’t start coming at consistent intervals or get stronger in intensity.

BH contractions are responsible for countless rushed trips to the hospital and frantic calls to midwives by women in their late third trimester who think they’re in real labor only to find out it was a false alarm. Usually drinking a glass or two of water and changing positions or walking around helps… whereas, if it was real labor, those things would not help at all.

As the time draws closer, I am trying to not think about what an anxious wreck I’ll be in those last couple of weeks. Not because of being nervous, really, but just wanting to be ready. I’m hoping (and probably Tammi is, too) that when I am finally ready to call her, it will be the real deal!

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