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Practice Contractions in Pregnancy

by Jane Wangersky | September 11th, 2012 | Pregnancy

I was seven months pregnant when I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to clean out the fireplace — shovel out all the ashes, scrub the inside, then drag the cast-iron grate out into the yard and hose it down. Sure it would be hard, but I’d give myself the whole afternoon to do it. And this would be worth it because . . . well, it was sort of like a food craving.

Then I remembered how I’d acted just before the birth of my first child, ironing all of my husband’s suits just in case he had a job interview every single day for the next three or four. Was this that “nesting instinct” again? It was early, and there was no history of premature births in my family, but at my age anything was possible.

Instead of cleaning the fireplace, I decided to do a smaller job: mail a letter. On the way back, I had a contraction.

I waddled home and waited for the next. But none came. It had been a Braxton Hicks contraction, also known by the more descriptive names of “practice contractions” and “false labor”.

During your pregnancy, these may be a real problem for you, even becoming painful. Or you may not have them at all. They can be more painful for women who’ve been pregnant before.

The big difference between practice contractions and real labor is that practice contractions, instead of getting stronger and more frequent, eventually just stop. According to womenshealth.gov, you may even be able to make them stop by changing your activity level (if you’re moving around, try lying down instead, for example, or if you’re sitting down, try walking). Real labor pains won’t stop because of anything you do, however.

It’s a good idea to time any contractions you have, to see both how long and how frequent they are. If you think it’s true labor, or even you’re not sure, it’s best to call your doctor.

The next time I had a contraction, two months later, it was real — followed by another one five minutes later, not stopping till nine hours later when the baby was born.

I’ve never figured out why I wanted to clean the fireplace that day — maybe that was some kind of practice, too.

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