Irritable Uterus vs. Braxton Hicks
During their first pregnancy, many women discover that there are so many things that their mothers and sisters never warned them about. We experience so many changes in our bodies that it's difficult to keep track of them, let alone remember to warn others of their existence.
Those who have never heard the term Braxton Hicks contractions will likely learn very early on in their second or third trimester what it means. Often deemed "practice contractions," Braxton Hicks usually consist of the uterus hardening, or balling up, simulating a mild labor contraction. Many women may not realize they are experiencing them and may even mistake them for fetal movement.
For the most part, Braxton Hicks contractions are rarely painful and will remain quite irregular. During periods of heavy activity, however, you may find the contractions become uncomfortable. If so, resting with your feet up will usually lessen your discomfort.
For many women, having Braxton Hicks contractions would be a blessing. For those who have been told they have an "irritable uterus", the onset of mildly uncomfortable contractions during the last weeks and months of the pregnancy would be ideal. Irritable uterus is a term used by doctors to describe painful contractions that do not cause changes in the cervix, like those seen during labor. These contractions can be frighteningly similar to the real deal, only without the regularity of true labor. Any time you experience painful contractions, you should contact your physician right away. They will examine your cervix to determine if the cervix has begun to dilate or efface, and they will monitor the contractions to determine their strength and regularity.
Painful contractions can many times be attributed to low fluid levels, either through simple dehydration or lowered levels of amniotic fluid. If it is determined that you are experiencing low levels of amniotic fluid, your doctor will need to monitor you carefully and will make recommendations to keep your pregnancy healthy and on track. But in most cases of dehydration, rest and plenty of extra fluid intake should help to alleviate your discomfort to some degree. Get plenty of rest, and try to find a comfortable position on your left side. Your doctor may suggest you take over-the-counter pain medication in small doses if the pain persists. Ask your obstetrician what he or she thinks is best and safest for the baby.
The most important thing to remember with either an irritable uterus or Braxton Hicks is that though these contractions are not necessarily a sign of preterm labor, they can very well lead to it. If you have been experiencing contractions that suddenly become more painful or come at regular intervals, you may be in labor, and you need to see your doctor right away. Or if you experience any bleeding, leaking fluid, or your membranes rupture (your water breaks), these are also signs of labor, and your doctor should be notified immediately.