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These AREN’T Braxton Hicks Contractions?!

April 21, 2021

Up until last weekend, I thought I was having intense and excessive Braxton Hicks Contractions. I even wrote a blog post about it because they were so prevalent in my life and I wanted to offer advice on how to deal with them.

As it turns out, they weren’t Braxton Hicks contractions at all, but contractions caused by uterine irritability.

Before this weekend, I had never heard of uterine irritability, but I soon learned the difference.

First of all, read my experience here that led me to believe that I was having excessive Braxton Hicks contractions to give you some background on what I was feeling and dealing with.

How it began

On the fourth of July, we had a pretty busy day. It was really hot, and we made plans to be out at festivals and events all day. We packed food and a few water bottles and off we went. After a family-carnival event, where I sweated like a pregnant woman on the fourth of July, we went home to rest before heading to a fireworks show.

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We wondered if the fireworks show would be canceled because it was pouring rain a few hours before, but it cleared up and was a beautiful show. We brought a vinyl picnic blanket that was supposedly water-proof so we wouldn’t get wet, and we were sure glad we did. I specifically checked my and my daughter’s rear-end to make sure we didn’t get wet when we got up, and was pleased to find the blanket lived up to its hype. We walked to the car and I drove home. When we got home and I got out of the car, I realized my rear end was soaked. I checked the car and the seat wasn’t that wet, then I went into the bathroom and realized my underwear was soaked through as well. The fluid had no color or odor and had a watery consistency, and my husband and I quickly realized it was that my water had broken. I was only 30.5 weeks pregnant, so we were panicking. We called the labor and delivery unit, and they said it’s hard to tell over the phone, but it’s probably best to come in to be safe. They have a quick test they can do to tell if it’s amniotic fluid.

So at about 10:45pm we packed some snacks, books, my daughter’s blanket, and headed to the hospital. We hadn’t visited this hospital before so we decided this was probably a good chance to figure out the route and where to go for when the baby actually does come, in case this was just a fluke.

I wasn’t having any other symptoms of labor—no painful contractions, no bloody show, nothing to indicate distress. I still had really tight, intense, and sometimes painful [what I thought were Braxton Hicks] contractions and also really sharp, shooting, intense cervical pain, but since those had been happening for a few months I didn’t consider those to be related to what was going on now.

I drank another water bottle on the way to the hospital and as I waited to be called back, I needed to pee so they gave me a cup to collect a sample. I was very hydrated!

The nurse called me back and put me in a room, where I undressed and put on a hospital gown. She then hooked me up to the monitors that monitor the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions. She also put a blood pressure cuff on my arm and pulse monitor on my finger. She asked some questions, and after a while the doctor came in.

Understanding uterine irritability

I was shocked to learn that I was having regular contractions 5-8 minutes apart. To test for amniotic fluid, the doctor needed to swab my vagina, and also said she’d like to do a cervical exam to see if these contractions were affecting my cervix. I consented and she checked, but it was closed and unchanged. After a few minutes, she told us that her initial analysis showed that no amniotic fluid was present, but that she’d need to check under the microscope to make sure. In the meantime, I needed to be hooked up to an IV, because these contractions were being caused by uterine irritability.

Unlike Braxton Hicks, contractions caused by uterine irritability are more regular and more intense, and become worse with activity, which explains why walking around didn’t make them better. However, as I watched the monitor, I was surprised to see some contractions appear that I couldn’t feel. The nurse told me that uterine irritability was often caused by dehydration, and although I’d been drinking water all day, the humidity and sweating from earlier in the day was likely the culprit. These contractions are not false labor, but they don’t lead to any change in the cervix, which differentiates them from real contractions—although they feel frighteningly similar. Unfortunately, women who suffer from uterine irritability are at a slightly higher risk for preterm labor (18.7 percent versus 11 percent) as these contractions can become more intense and start effecting the cervix.

After a bag of IV solution had been diffused, the contractions stopped. We finally got out of the hospital at 5:30am, exhausted but relieved. My water hadn’t broken. The contractions had stopped, and all was well for the time being. Knowing that these contractions were from an irritated uterus, not Braxton Hicks, was well worth the trip to L&D to manage them.

I went home and did some research on uterine irritability. As it turns out, their diagnosis was spot on—I had all of the symptoms of uterine irritability according to Dr. Laura Klein, an OB-GYN at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, which include:

  • Painful contractions or tightening that occur more than 4x per hour
  • Vaginal bleeding or watery leakage from the vagina
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Lower back pain that seems to be rhythmic
  • Slowed fetal movement, usually less than 10 movements over a 2-hour span

The exact cause of uterine irritability isn’t known, and it hasn’t been researched very much. It is believed, however, that some of the factors that can cause uterine irritability include:

  • Stress
  • A full bladder
  • Dehydration
  • Sex
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Increased physical activity

Some women are put on bedrest if they suffer from uterine irritability and are at a high risk for preterm labor. Personally, I was just told to drink a lot more water and to follow-up with my regular doctor, but to make sure and come back in if they get more intense and frequent.

Now I have the fun task of figuring out how to stay hydrated while simultaneously not letting my bladder get too full, and not getting too stressed out.

Have you ever heard of or experienced uterine irritability? Tell me about it and what you know below!

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Author Info

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

Angela graduated with her B.S. in Exercise and Wellness and is a NASM certified personal trainer who specializes in postpartum fitness and recovery. She enjoys writing, cracking jokes, and spending time with her family, preferably while fishing. She shares many of her life adventures on Instagram as @angelagrams

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27 thoughts on “These AREN’T Braxton Hicks Contractions?!

Tonya

I also had irritable uterus and I would drink and drink and pee and pee and it was terrible. My uterus would clamp down really hard and just stay hard for 20 minutes to an hour without releasing. I would grip the table in agony and getting through work was horrible. My husband would have to help me into the house. I ended up 1cm dilated and lost my mucus plug at 32 weeks but I lasted until 37 weeks before my water broke. I also had pitting edema in my legs as well as swelling of my face, hands, harms, legs, and thighs. It was rough. Calcium and Magnesium help and for some Epsom Salt baths are also helpful. Check with Mayo Clinic’s website for dosing of the vitamins in pregnancy.

sw_bailey@ymail.com'

Bailey

I am so glad that I found this post. I am 28 weeks pregnant with my 4th child. I have had 2 vaginal deliveries and a miscarriage so I know a little about what child birth feels like. I started having what I thought was Braxton Hicks on a Monday around 6pm. It is Thursday and I am still feeling some very light contractions. On Day2, I spoke with the nurse of my doctor, because I can never speak with him personally. I described what I was feeling, it was contractions just oddly on one side of my body. I had all the pressure in my lower back and stomach and the contractions were coming 2 to 3 minutes apart none stop since the day before. After 2 phone calls, she finally had me go to the hospital. I was hooked up to the machine that monitors baby and contractions. I was also given a test to see if I was at risk of pre term labor. The swab was full of blood when the nurse removed it. She then checks my cervix and it was still closed. I was happy about that. After an hour of monitoring, she tells me that they weren’t picking anything on monitor that looks like contractions. Probably because her monitor is on the opposite side of my contracting uterus. I went home, still in pain and still having pretty regular contractions. Many was so intense that it brought me to tears. However, after all of that I still have no diagnosis. Glad you were able to find a medical staff that at least cared to follow through with what you were feeling.

pitbullmom1983@gmail.com'

Morgan

Ugh, this is so frustrating. Just got home from L&D after having contractions all day, they also checked to see if I was leaking amniotic fluid and checked my cervix and I’m completely closed. I seriously have these all the time and now that I’m 36 week’s they aren’t stopping them, I’m so sore and so frustrated.

strawberrees@gmail.com'

krissy

i had this with baby #1 – trip to L&D around 27 weeks for contractions every 2-3 min for hours. i was there for 5 hours. 2 liters of water and an IV didn’t stop them, i ended up having to take some pill (twice). amazingly no cervical changes. i was given terbutaline to take as needed for the contractions (3-4 dozen contractions/day). my cervix gradually effaced (from all the activity?) and my water broke at 38wks. ironically my contractions stopped and i had to be induced. i’m almost 36wks with #2 now and it’s been worse. i’ve been on bedrest for 2 weeks (this helped a lot), got steroid shots in case of preterm labor, cervix effaced earlier, baby is engaged and i lost my mucus plug 2 days ago. i’m glad i made it this far but it’s definitely stressful getting constant contractions!as if being pregnant wasn’t stressful enough. i wish there was more research on this! thanks for having this info out there for others who might be suffering.

jibil23@gmail.com'

Jill

Wow-I’m glad to read your post. I started having what I thought was just Braxton Hicks at 23 weeks. I went into the hospital and they kept me there for 3 days and said what they saw was uterine irritability. Unfortunately, I have an insufficient cervix and when they checked my cervix it had shortened. So, I’m on a few different medicines to hopefully stabilize things and have to get my cervix checked regularly. I’m 25 1/2 weeks and each day that goes by I feel blessed.

dmoore1627@gmail.com'

Deva

I’m so glad I found this post! I’m a bit relieved that, this was my reason for what I felt earlier! But I’m sure mine was caused by the intercourse earlier today lol. I’m 36 weeks and 4 days and I thought I was going into Labour early which freaked me out because even though this is my second child I’m still not ready for him yet! But thank you so much for posting this- least I now know that what I was feeling wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it was.

CarterFamilyof13@aol.com'

Heather Carter

This happened to me my last pregnancy and now Im 36 weeks and stumbled upon this lovely article while googling over this very topic! lol
My last pregnancy, I had terrible uterine irritability near the end, to the point I no longer could tell real contractions from braxton hicks. By the time I got checked in the hospital I was in utter shock to learn I was 7cm dilated and in transition!
Ive been up all night with what I think are braxton hicks; fairly regular but not increasingly in intensity and now I’m wondering… hmmm… maybe I should give my Ob a call.

Christine

I am so glad to find this post and exchange of comments. I’m a first time mom and I’ve been experiencing very frequent contractions (started at 26 weeks). Once I figured out what the tightening actually was, I immediately freaked out and went to LD to get checked. Everything was fine, but it’s been like one long contraction ever since. No pain, but seemingly constant. I’m almost at 30 weeks, and just wish I could blink to make the next two months pass so my baby has the time it needs to finish cooking. But my doctors don’t seem overly concerned, even said I could continue exercising and having sex. But hearing that I’m not the only one has been the best medicine for the stress.

hurricane1106@yahoo.com'

Jamie

Wow thx for the info. I’ve nvr heard of them. I’m on #3 & 36wks. I thought I’d been having Braxton hicks but am always dehydrated when I go get checked out. So this makes perfect sense. Mine are intense and have been regular, but my water hasn’t broken and I’m not dilated. I do know they get worse if I’m active or stressed. Once I relax and get fluids, they get better! I was shocked too when they said I was having actual contractions. Definitely learned something new!! Thx for ur post

chesswasclan@gmail.com'

Sarah

Hi, I am having baby number 5 and this is the first time I’ve experienced anything like this. At the moment I’m really struggling as I have been in and out of hospital 3 times with it so far and they get worse each time. I guess I just don’t know how I’m going to know when I go into real labour as I’m now going to be second guessing myself all the time. Glad I’m not the only one out there.

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

Hey Destry! My doctor told me that since my contractions weren’t affecting my cervix or the baby that I shouldn’t worry about them. I was just told how to alleviate them (stay hydrated, etc.) and was told that if they got more intense or changed that I should go in, but as uncomfortable as they were they were harmless since my cervix was normal and closed. That was just my situation, though. Your doctor knows best, and you should always go to him/her if you’re worried. Better safe than sorry, ya know? I know how stressful those contractions are, though. I hope you find some relief and everything goes smoothly for you!

dustyrosie1@hotmail.com'

Destry

Hi Angela,

I came across your post when I was looking up some information regarding Braxton Hicks. I think I may actually have uterine irritability instead. I’m only 15 weeks, but throughout the night and often during the day I have tightening in my back and uterus that comes and goes every few minutes. I went to the doctor yesterday and my cervix looks normal and is closed. The baby looked fine on ultrasound. I’m really scared that these will progress and that I’ll end up in preterm labor. I am so worried for my baby. Did your doctor mention any signs to worry about or if these type of contractions can be considered dangerous at all? Thanks!

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

Oh I’m so sorry, Ada. I definitely understand the struggle. Sometimes the only comfort comes in knowing that someone else knows how you feel and can relate, and that you’re not alone. I hope you do get some relief and the rest of your pregnancy and labor goes smoothly!

Ada

Just thought I’d comment as I’m in my second pregnancy with uterine irritability. I am not one to talk about physical discomforts of pregnancy and my family doesn’t really understand; they make things more stressful. I’m glad I’m not the only one who understands the vicious cycle of “don’t stress” but keep an eye on your contractions, drink lots of water but keep your bladder empty, stay healthy and strong for birth but don’t exercise when you have contractions (which is always when I am upright). It can be so stressful, especially when the contractions become intense and painful causing back and pelvic pressure/pain. I am constantly thinking that I might go into PTL but probably not. It’s been a lot less stressful the second time around but I’m only 28 weeks so as each week goes by I feel a bit better. So glad I’m not the only one. It’s tough when other people don’t get it.

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

Oh I’m so sorry, Kelly! I’m the same way, any activity really triggers the contractions and they stop me in my tracks. It’s hard to get out and do things with my toddler because I’m so afraid to overdo it and make things worse. I have more peace of mind knowing that even though they’re pretty bad, they haven’t gotten worse and this severity isn’t affecting my cervix. So as long as things stay the same, I’m okay (according to my doctor). I hope you are able to relax and all will go well!

Avatar for Lacey Pappas

Lacey Pappas

You aren’t alone, Kelly! I had a different story than Angela, but definitely had Braxton Hicks too, and was never sure how serious to take them. Take care of yourself and listen to your body! Hang in there!

fitzharrisotr@gmail.com'

kelly

I’m experiencing this right now and it’s so scary…same story just about. Went to L&D, contractions on monitor were 5 minutes apart, no cervical change, baby was fine through it all. Given IV fluids and told ‘it just happens”. Ugh, so frustrating. I keep hydrated but even grocery shopping sets me off or baby movement (she moves quite a bit). I’m just now 27 weeks and scared to death it’s gonna throw me into pre-term labor. I have a 7 year old who was born 4lbs full term and had a lengthy NICU stay. It was traumatic for him and me. All I can do is pray at this point. Thank you for sharing your story. Helps to know I’m not alone.

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

I know! I’m shocked at how few people have heard of it! I’m glad he’s staying put, too. Thank you!

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Jordan Monroe

Wow, what a story! I have never heard of uterine irritability. I am glad your LO decided to stay in there though! 10 more weeks! Congrats!

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

It is definitely not the most comfortable of situations :p But I’m also so relieved that they aren’t strong of contractions enough to send me into preterm labor, and I’m hoping it stays that way until he’s good and ready to come out!

Shea

I have never experienced this before but how miserable to have contractions for no reason other than uterine irritability! But also SO glad that baby is safe and still cooking longer so much better for both of you 😉 It’s a good thing you could get to a doc and see exactly what was going on!

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

Thanks Jane! Yeah I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it, either. Thankfully we’re all doing well, as long as my cervix stays unchanged I just get to grin and bear the painful contractions :p

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Jane

I’ve never heard of this — I’m so glad you shared it, and most of all that you + baby are OK! How scary!

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

Hahaha pretty much!
At my appointment today my doctor said “I know it’s ridiculous we tell you that, because these won’t go away until the baby finally comes, and they will stress you out, and the stress can make it worse which adds more stress, so it’s just a vicious cycle but just do your best to eliminate stress.” Thanks for the luck, I need it!

Anonymous

So, they tell you that you have uterine irritability, which could cause preterm labor, or not, but stress can make it worse, so whatever you do, don’t stress?! Good luck with that!

Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

ME NEITHER! I was shocked when, out of the blue, they said “your contractions are 5-8 minutes apart.” I always thought my “Braxton Hicks” were strongerthan normal and happening way too often, but I didn’t think they could be anything else.

Avatar for Lacey

Lacey

I had no idea this was actually a thing! Just listen to your body- you know best! That 4th of July holiday can really be exhausting though. Hang in there!