Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Learning About Braxton Hicks Contractions

Ed. Note: We asked one of the Birthplace at Sinai's mothers-to-be to blog periodically about her experiences as a future (soon to be new) mother.

My due date is still over five weeks away, but I’m now experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions – or false labor – with growing frequency. My body is warming up for labor and delivery, though I’m not uncomfortably large yet and it’s still strange to think that my baby will be here in just a few weeks!

Uterine contractions are caused when the body releases oxytocin – a hormone that plays a huge role in human reproduction. Also known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin helps lovers bond with one another as the hormone reduces fear and anxiety and increases trust. It’s also a hormone that’s emitted during breastfeeding, causing the breasts to release milk and strengthening the bond between mother and baby. (Incidentally, some women have their pregnancies induced or labor sped up through receiving Pitocin, which is artificial oxytocin.)

Strange as it may be, I can sometimes feel my body release oxytocin; it feels like a wave of unexplained well-being and relaxation rolling over me. It’s not a sexual feeling, but it’s similarly intimate and pleasurable.

These oxytocin-produced sensations became more acute when I approached middle pregnancy, and I get them a lot now. When I do, shortly thereafter my belly feels rock hard to the touch and I may feel minor cramping in the lower part of my uterus. Normally, the uterus has some give and one’s abdomen feels slightly soft. During a contraction, however, if you press on the uterus, it will feel similar to a forehead.

I know these are Braxton Hicks contractions and not true labor because my contractions come with irregularity with no pattern of growing frequency, consist of no or only mild cramping, and don’t last longer and longer. When I do feel cramping, it’s confined to the lower part of my uterus and doesn’t emanate from the lower back and move forward to the upper uterus. That said, every pregnancy is different, and medical experts say that if you experience six or more of these Braxton Hicks contractions in one hour, you should call your OB-GYN. He or she may want to evaluate you to make sure you’re not in true labor.

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