Q. I am eight months pregnant and sometimes my stomach feels as hard as a rock. There are other times when I can feel the different parts of the baby, but then it feels as if the fluid and the baby are one solid rock. Is this normal?
A. Yep. The rock-hard times are probably when you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. Sometimes you may feel cramping or pain with these contractions and sometimes you won't. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to a several minutes.
When you experience real contractions, your uterus will be rock-hard all over, unlike Braxton Hicks, where the fundus remains soft. To check to see if your fundus is hard, press down on the top of your uterus, just below the top of your rib cage.
Q. I am 40 weeks pregnant and for the last three days I have been experiencing contractions and a sharp, stabbing, shooting pain in my vagina. The contractions are stopping and starting along with the pain that I just described in my vagina. What is this pain? Is it part of the first stage of labor? Can you give me a medical term for it?
-Anonymous, New York
A. It sounds like you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, which are the dress rehearsal for real labor. The sharp, stabbing pain in your vagina could be the baby knocking on the door of your cervix. You probably feel this pain suddenly during a contraction because it squeezes the baby downward.
Braxton Hicks contractions can be very uncomfortable, and even scary or exciting, especially if you cannot tell the difference between them and the real contractions.
Here are a few ways to tell the dif:
- The Braxton Hicks contractions are not as consistent and timely as real contractions. The real ones are usually regular and increase in frequency and severity.
- Braxton Hicks contractions (usually) do not accompany any other signs of labor.
- Real contractions (usually) begin in the lower back and spread to the lower abdomen while hardening the entire uterus. A Braxton Hicks does not completely harden the uterus- and the fundus (usually) remains soft. To check if your fundus is soft, press down on the top of your uterus during the contraction. If it is not hard-as-a-rock, it is most likely a Braxton Hicks.
If you are at all concerned that you may be experiencing real labor, call your doctor to describe your symptoms.
Oh, one more thing-: the real labor pains are definitely more painful than Braxton Hicks. But you wouldn't know that, of course, unless you have already experienced real labor.
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Q. I don't think I've had a Braxton Hicks contraction the whole time I've been pregnant. Is this normal? Can this be a sign of something serious? I'm 37 weeks pregnant.
A. I'd count myself lucky not to have any Braxton Hicks contractions. They can be annoying, if not painful at times. I wouldn't worry. Some women never experience a cramp of any kind until labor begins, while others have uterine cramping during the whole pregnancy.
Q. I am 36 weeks pregnant and I started having contractions this morning. I went to the hospital after about three hours. They said I was effacing but not dilating yet, so they gave me a shot to stop the contractions. Was that necessary? What are the dangers of having my baby now?
A. At 36 weeks, your baby has a very good chance for survival if delivered. There's a small chance that the baby may be underweight or slightly underdeveloped. If full-on labor can be prevented before week 38, most OB/GYNs will postpone it in the interest of giving the baby the best odds for being fully developed and healthy. A doctor may encourage an early delivery if there is a medical reason for it, such as toxemia, placenta previa, preeclampsia or a rupture of the amniotic sac.
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Q. I am 38 weeks and two days along in my second pregnancy. I've had what I suspect are some Braxton Hicks contractions for three to four hours straight, for three days in a row. Since this has begun I have noticed that my stomach has become "mushy" and fat feeling. It was very tight just prior to the last few days. My belly button had become an "outie" and all of the sudden it has fallen and become and “innie.” Is this any reason for concern?
A. I don't think you need to be concerned about your falling belly button. Usually, right before labor the baby will drop down and the head will become engaged in the pelvis. Once the baby in engaged in the birthing position many women will notice a tremendous relief from some of the strain previously put on the lungs, stomach and navel by the pressure of the baby. That's why your outie has turned innie. Unfortunately, this shift in weight and pressure can present some other discomforts, such as saddle sore, diarrhea, edema in the legs and feet, varicose veins and hemorrhoids. The good news is that labor is near!