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:
- A full bladder
- 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!