Irritable Uterus – What Is An Irritable Uterus During Pregnancy?

Irritable Uterus - What Is An Irritable Uterus During Pregnancy?

Ever wonder what your uterus gets up to during pregnancy?

Apart from stretching with your growing baby, what else is it doing in there?

You might have heard of Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as ‘practice contractions’, as the uterus gets ready for labour.

You might notice them in the middle trimester.

The contractions are usually irregular and quite mild. They stop after a while, particularly if you rest or hydrate.

Some women, however, experience what is known as an irritable uterus. This is when the uterus contracts in a disorganised fashion during pregnancy.

What Is Irritable Uterus?

The uterus is a powerhouse of muscle layers. During pregnancy, the inner horizontal layer of muscles keeps the cervix closed.

The outer vertical muscle layer begins to contract when labour begins, opening the cervix and pushing the baby out.

You can read more about this in What Your Uterus Does In Labour.

 

Labour contractions are regular and strong. In comparison, the contractions associated wth irritable uterus can feel more like twitching.

Unlike labour contractions, irritable uterus contractions don’t affect the cervix and don’t lead to labour.

Very few studies have been done to investigate irritable uterus in pregnancy, and the ultimate cause of it is still unknown.

However, from anecdotal evidence we are aware of some common triggers for the contractions: exercise; lifting heavy objects; having an orgasm; dehydration; stress; constipation; and a full bladder.

It is generally believed irritable uterus causes preterm labour. In 1995 researchers published a research paper that examined the link between irritable uterus and preterm labour.

They found preterm labour was more likely to be linked to other high risk factors. However, 18.7% of women who had uterine irritability experienced preterm labour; among women who did not, the incidence of pre-term labour was 11%.

Unfortunately there have been no further studies into this link and so the reason for this increased risk remains unknown.

What Are The Symptoms Of Irritable Uterus?

Irritable uterus can feel similar to Braxton Hicks contractions but the contractions occur more frequently, are more painful, and tend to be more regular in length and frequency.

Due to the intensity of the contractions many women mistake them for real labour. The contractions can also be accompanied by a feeling of pressure and/or pain in the back.

Unlike Braxton Hicks, irritable uterus contractions worsen with increased activity. Irritable uterus can also feel like a constant tight belly, which can become worse when standing or walking. The tight belly can last for over an hour at a time.

How To Diagnose Irritable Uterus?

If you’re experiencing contractions before 37 weeks your care provider will run some tests to see what is happening.

A pressure sensitive belt will monitor the strength, length and duration of the contractions.

Other tests will help to assess whether or not you are at risk of preterm labour:

  • Analysis of vaginal secretions, to check for fetal fibronecin, which can indicate preterm labour; this test isn’t 100% accurate.
  • Ultrasound, to check the length of your cervix, which will begin to shorten before you go into labour.

Treatment For Irritable Uterus

Dealing with uterine irritability can be very challenging. The ongoing contractions can interrupt your sleep and your increased watchfulness might add to your exhaustion.

Because we don’t know what causes irritable uterus it is hard to know how to treat it.

This advice might be useful:

  • Keep your bladder empty; a full bladder can create further irritation
  • Stay hydrated
  • Reduce your stress levels
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Avoid lifting heavy items
  • Lie on your left hand side
  • Eat small meals, more frequently
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Take magnesium supplements (but check with your care provider first).

If the uterine irritability is severe, your doctor might prescribe medication to prevent or reduce the intensity of the contractions.

If your doctor believes you to be at increased risk of preterm labour, you could be put on bed rest. This could be total bed rest (which means you spend almost all of your time in bed), partial bed rest (you spend an extra four hours a day resting in bed) or pelvic rest (which means no sexual activity, including masturbation).

When To Go To Hospital

If you haven’t reached 37 weeks pregnancy, you should seek medical advice if you experience any of the following:

  • Painful contractions, contractions every 5-10 minutes, or more than five contractions in an hour
  • Any vaginal bleeding or leaking from the vagina
  • Reduced fetal movements
  • Pressure in the pelvis or vagina
  • Regular lower back pain; this can signal labour.

If you have any concerns about these symptoms, or about how you are feeling generally, don’t hesitate to speak to your care provider immediately. It’s important to be assessed in case you are at risk of preterm labour, and so appropriate measures can be taken.

If you are suffering from irritable uterus, you are probably feeling quite frustrated by the lack of information available about your condition.

Try to relax, and get as much rest as you can. If you find something that reduces the contractions, keep doing it!

Unfortunately, lack of research means irritable uterus remains one of the ‘unknowns’ of pregnancy.

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Sam McCulloch Dip CBEd CONTRIBUTOR

Sam McCulloch enjoyed talking so much about birth she decided to become a birth educator and doula, supporting parents in making informed choices about their birth experience. In her spare time she writes novels. She is mother to three beautiful little humans.


26 comments

  1. Ive recently been told i have this. Im currently 36w 5d pregnant and am not sure how much more pain i can take, not only are the contractions ranging in pain but also the pain i have in my lower region is also rather painful. Do doctors consider the problems from this condition as reason enough to induce someone at 38 – 40 weeks rather than making them wait in pain even longer? Some days im in so much pain with it all i try not to move off the lounge if possible.

    1. Labour pains will be stronger than this – moreso an induction. Are you drinking enough water? Dehydration can cause this sometimes. If you get some electrolytes (not sports drinks), see if that gives you some relief. Labour isn’t too far away, are there any other ways you can manage the pain? Has your doctor suggested anything? It’s important for baby to have as much time in the womb as possible, especially for making sure they wont have any breathing problems. I understand how painful pregnancy can be, hang in there mama!

      https://www.bellybelly.com.au/pregnancy/40-reasons-to-give-baby-40-weeks-of-pregnancy/

      1. Thats the issue. These contractions don’t ease off no matter how hydrated you stay! Part of the reason its such a hard condition to live with. These can feel EXACTLY like labor contractions but not be real labor. This is my third pregnancy with irritable uterus and i can no longer get off the couch at 36 weeks without my entire belly seizing up painfully, and I do nothing but drink fluids. There is no middle ground. With My first I went into labor at 37 weeks 2 days. With my second I went into labor around 30 weeks and had to be put on labor stopping meds. I was working during this pregnancy and had to leave my job, because all if the standing and walking made the constant contractions so severe I ended up in labor and delivery to get checked after every long day or double shift….at least once a week. It’s one of those conditions where if you don’t suffer from it, you shouldnt comment. Because you don’t know. Obviosly we’ve all tried everything we can to ease them, but living and working from day to day with a bowling ball twxtured uterus is not something women want to be told to suck it up about. Induction isn’t that bad compared to living with this condition, and babies born between 38 and 40 weeks are perfectly ready to be born. 40 is just the average. No baby’s developement follows textbook exactly.

      2. I’m sorry labor is not worse, different but not worse have you had an hour long contraction with back pain? It’s like labor for weeks straight horrible miserable and just maybe not so great for the baby? At 38 weeks many doctors induce for convenience so health of mother yeah I think this is legit. It is not slight discomfort of end of pregnancy fyi.

    2. I’m pregnant with my second child and I’ve had irritable uterus from 7 months on with both pregnancies. I too have been sick of contractions by the time it gets close to delivery. My OB was going to allow me to be induced at 40 weeks due to the irritable uterus. I ended up opting out of this and at 40.2 had 4 days of hard labor and was induced. It’s hard to explain to people the pain and irritation and frustration of an irritable uterus. It is painful and annoying. Hang in there before you know it your precious bundle of joy will be here. Try to rest anytime the irritable uterus starts up this can be a life saver.

  2. I am 32 weeks and have been having this for a month now. I also tested positive on the fibronectin exam and my cervix is a little short but the doctors decided not to inject me with steroids (for baby’s lungs). Some days are definately worst than others but right now i am just so exhausted as i can barely get some sleep. Everytime i change position i get some prettybig ones. I have been pulled off work (canadian army) and can not to my workouts anymore. Staying at home makes me feel pretty useless. I just hope i can keep her in here as long as possible … And that i can get some rest. Even though my doc told me to get to the hospital to be monitored again if i keep having bad days of too much contractions, i prefer to just rest at home so i can relax in bed, take baths, eat good food, watch tv with my man instead of staring at the wall in the hospital room. I will go in if my water breaks or if contractions change drastically to more painfull ones.

  3. I haven’t been diagnosed with this but stumbled upon it when doing some research. I am 33 weeks and just moved a few weeks ago during that time I had horrible contractions (stress induced) they have subsided but I still feel contractions every now and then but the thing I have noticed most is that my uterus is almost constantly hard (which probably means it is contacting) it’s so painful!!! The upper part of my uterus feels like it is literally ripping in half. Is this also a symptom of irritable uteri? Anyone else feel this way? Should I be bringing this up to my midwife?

  4. I am 35 weeks and tested positive at 33 weeks for pre term labour i have contractions almost every day i am so over the pain and being tired i cant rest much as this is my 5th child doctor’s have decided to induce me at 37 weeks my baby has already had 2 x dose of steroids. . I hope she comes before the 2 weeks i am just so tired….

  5. I also have this, but I’m at 39-40 wks. Went to the hospital today because I thought I was starting to go into labour, but again am not. My midwife just told me to go home take Tylenol, warm bath and try to rest. It’s nearly impossible to rest when these “contractions” are almost 5 minutes apart lasting 1min in length.. I’m seriously wanting to be induced.

    1. Same as what I experienced. Couple of time I been admitted because of the contraction is really painful. Can’t sleep in the night anymore and it’s been a weeks since I suffering for this condition and nothing can do anything to be comfortable and it’s so frustrating as you thougth it’s a true labour

  6. Thank you so much for the Article.. It’s true that there isn’t much information about this condition. I’m currently 39 weeks pregnant with my second child. With my first pregnancy I was in fear of giving birth prematurely from week 20 onwards. I had good support from my gynacologist and midwife, but i took some medicine in addition to magnesium and spent a lot of time in bed. It was always called ” premature contractions” although my cervix basically stayed closed. My daughter was born on the due date at home.. This time the contractions started around week 16 and have increased towards the end.. I have only taken magnesium and tried to take it easy (even though it hurts quite a lot ! and i often wonder whether the birth is about to kick off..) It hasn’t been easy at all but i’m incredibly grateful that we made it this far without too much hassle this time and too many drugs. But I’ve had to tone my expectations down quite a lot , because I couldnt “function” in the same way as maybe other pregnant women do. Drinking enough and emptying your badder – yes that’s very important!!! And get good support from family and friends, midwives and doctors around you! Reading this article made me feel understood..

  7. I’m 30 weeks pregnant and my doctor just told me today this is probably what I have. My baby is super active in the womb, he NEVER! stops moving which irritates the uterus even more making it contract more. I’ve increased my water intake and plan to drink some chamomile tea before bed. I’m not on bed rest but Im starting to think maybe I should be because I really want to carry this little guy full term. This is a bit scary. If the water increase and tea doesn’t seem to do the trick, I plan to call my doc back tomorrow. I’ve also tried to talk less and asked the hubby and two teen girls to keep the noise down. The baby reacts to all noises. Lol! tonight has been the most peaceful my house has been in a long time.

  8. Hi! I was googling my symptoms when I stumbled upon this discussion. I’m 40+1 and I noticed that I was having BH from 16 weeks onward.

    A out 4 weeks ago my contractions got painful and consistent, so I went to the hospital. The hooked me up to the fetal movement machine. The midwife mentioned that my uterus was jumpy and that my baby was very active but no one said anything about it being called irritable uterous Or that there were things I could do to prevent it from happening.

    I felt like I was losing my mind. I’ve felt like I was in pre labour for nearly 4 weeks with no one seeming to understand my pain, frustration, or exhaustion. I’ve been taking 1 OTC panadiene extra (15mg codeine) almost once a day for the last few days. Doctor was okay with me taking them but I don’t want there to be any chance if my baby being born with an addition so I agonise over the choice of being in pain or “hurting” my baby.

    Just pointing out, I’ve made it past my due date so this condition doesn’t always mean preterm labour. Even with all the contractions my cervix is still long and tight and she’s only partially engaged in my pelvis.

    It feels better to know I’m not the only one. Has anyone any experience with taking codeine in the weeks before labour is due? Should I be concerned? Doctors are pushing me to be induced now and I would rather not be so I’m nervous about talking to them about how much pain I’m in.

  9. Am 37 weeks and 5 days pregnant with same condition. This is my second pregnancy and haven’t felt this during my first pregnancy. It’s very uncomfortable and even bothered me to take a decent sleep. I don’t want to be induced though. Is there any alternative to alleviate this pain aside from medications? By the way, I drink a lot of fluids so I don’t think am dehydrated. And I also empty my bladder in a timely manner.

  10. I had this with my first pregnancy, I’m currently 11 weeks into my second and already feeling those familiar tightenings! My first I noticed contractions at 14weeks because I could literally see my uterus tensing and rising up in my stomach when laying down. They never let up and my baby boy was extremely active. I’d have contractions every two minutes for forty seconds, this could last hours! In the third trimester I was on self imposed bed rest as I couldn’t manage anything much, even taking a shower I was wrecked by the end and would have to lay down! I went into preterm labour at 33 weeks and was in hospital for a week before my little one arrived at 34weeks. I was having panadine (15mg codeine) in the month before going into labour to manage the pain, it helped and I don’t believe had any effect on bub.

    Irritable uterus was never mentioned through out all of this. It wasn’t until I was talking to the nurses and midwives who worked in the neonatal ward where we stayed for two weeks after the birth that it was mentioned, then it was up to me to find anything out about it! I’d happily take part in any research trials if there were any so that we could get some answers!! It’s hard having something no-one knows much about.

    All I can say to anyone else going through it is, you’re super strong and not alone in it! And you really are having a harder time than most other pregnant ladies! No one will understand what you’re dealing with unless they have it too! Good luck xx

    Oh also even though my little guy was born early he was perfectly healthy. Two weeks in the neonatal ward being tube fed until his sucking reflex came in, then we were good to go, perfect health ever since and he’s nearly two now, breastfed until 21months!

    1. I know this is an old post, but this is the first post I’ve ever seen similar to my situation. I get full blown contractions (lotsa pain, tightening, regular, etc…) from early on. First baby started about 24 weeks. Second started about 20 weeks. Third started about 18 weeks. I’m now 10 weeks with my fourth and already feeling the tightening.

      With my first the doctor was concerned with preterm labor but had no problems at all. Carried her 39 weeks. Went into labor and couldn’t tell the difference! Finally went in again (husband’s prompting) and they confirmed it. It felt the same as usual… When they offered the epidural, I immediately accepted… I’d endured it for months. That was enough for me.

      Baby 2 and 3 had to be induced at 37 and 36 weeks due too the umbilical cord being wreaked around their necks and the contractions cutting off blood flow.

      I hope you and your baby are healthy!

  11. I would happily go on a trial for this. I had it terribly with baby number 6 in 2014 . I ended up having a breakdown due to the pain exhaustion and the hospitalsurrounding being awful. I was told I had depression! Far from it.
    One of the above posts was spot on, you could see baby rise up in each tightening. These are not Braxton hicks!
    I did get very dehydrated due to the exhaustion, which is never a goodles thing.
    I totally understand anyone going through this as no one at all helped me.
    I do have a large thybroid which makes it worse.
    But my baby is healthy and I felt amazing as soon as he was born.

  12. I’m 25weeks+2days into my 3rd pregnancy and AGAIN enjoying the fun that is irritable uterus… Am so over contractions, they started this time from 14wks. (Can also definitely see bub rise up during contractions. Saw a contraction on screen during our last ultrasound, so strange to see the walls close in on bub – but undeniably happening). Both previous pregnancies resulted in preterm labour at/around the 26-27wk mark. Strict hospital bed rest and antenatal care managed to stretch the births until 35wks then 32wks respectively. Obstetrician has trialled various things, but consistently favours the use of Progesterone pessaries to maintain the pregnancy as long as possible. Best wishes and good luck to all of you mummas xx

  13. I was told today I have this I’m going crazy with lack of information. Seems it’s gotten worse since last week as I had a car accident I’m now 27 weeks with my baby girl this is my 4th baby I’m already ready to be done this really sucks

  14. I am 28 weeks and getting contractions every 5mins with each contractions lasting 50secs to a min. It started off mild contractions with mild cramps but going to day 5 its starting to get stronger again. After reading all the post I realized that I had this with my first as well but not this bad. I made it to 39.1 weeks with my first so hoping to last at 35 weeks with this one. It does happen more frequently when stress, too active and full bladder. I was on low blood pressure tablets for about 3 days which did help to relax the muscles so less contractions happen. Today i thought it had stop as I rarely got contractions and no pain when it happens but it started to worsten at night. The docs will reassess me tomorrow but all the symptoms are showing Irritatable Uterus.

  15. I’ve had two weeks of irritable uterus now; which started at 30 weeks. The doctor prescribed nifedipine on low dosage to help lower my blood pressure and reduce the strength of turn the contractions to reach 32 weeks. I didn’t really think the medication was doing anything other than making me feel a bit nauseas. OB doubled the dosage to see if it would help and the intensity of the contraction reduced but by 1am in the morning they com back as strong as ever. Well the positive is that we have made it to 32 weeks so that is a relief, and I’d now like to reach 36 weeks but i just wish the contractions would just stop!
    I think its difficult to explain just how uncomfortable they make me feel; and how tired I am now both physically and mentally from waking every couple of hours wondering whether the contractions are progressing. The only thing I can suggest to other mums is to drink lots of water because I have found that they can make you quite dehydrated.
    Hang in there

  16. My wife is 28 weeks pregnant and her doctor told her that she has a irritable uterus. She always complains about pain in the abdomen and there is fluid discharge too. The doctor didn’t give any medicine for it and also told us that it’s nothing to worry about. But whenever she starts having pain and the uterus gets thick I am worried.

  17. This post has literally saved my sanity today! After spending a night in maternity triage being made to feel like your wasting their time because it’s probably just “intense braxtons” and being told you can leave, non the wiser and still getting the constant abdo pain and tightenings…. I was feeling so lost and scared, third baby or not! Then I read this and realise I am not alone in this and this condition not only explains what I’m going through but gave me much needed validation and support through reading your experiences! To the mums who have been through it I salute you and to those going through it, I hope like me you feel a little bit of hope now through the power of self help and knowing you are not crazy or over the top and that what your feeling is real! X

  18. I am 19 weeks about and have uterine irritability. Hurts sooo much. I went to the er and nothing helps. They gave me a lower tab which did nothing, fluids did nothing, every time I move I am having contractions. Laying down makes it worse. I was put on bedrest. What helps with the pain and getting comfortable to at least take a nap? All I want is to be pain free. I am in so much pain. Every few minutes lasting a full minute or longer. It makes me want to cry.

  19. So thankful I came across this! I’m 43 years old & pregnant w 3rd boy. I am only 25 weeks and have been experiencing this since about 17 weeks. Dr said I was early for BH contractions at that point so had me start doing things that many have suggested. Increase water, pee often, rest when I can, lay on left side. I haven’t taken anything for pain as I’m trying so hard to not take anything I don’t absolutely need. My oldest has some special needs and my 2nd had a bit of speech delay. So I am really trying to avoid anything I can during this pregnancy, just in case. Anyways, I am still working 2 to 3 days a week and Dr is “in favor” of me stopping now. She said she’s hesitant to tell me I have to but that I need to really listen to my body. I am thankful for this article and all of your comments! I will definitely talk to her about it at next appointment! And I’m glad I am not going crazy! Haha! Everything that was mentioned seems like it fits me. I’m laying here now, finally calming down after nearly 2 hours of tightness so bad and so much pressure between my legs I could barely walk. I did manage to soak in a warm bath and that helped a bit. My uterus is relaxing now so prayerfully I get sleep. Oh, and i had my hubby read this too. He has been a big help but he understands much better now what I e been trying to explain all these weeks. And his words tonight were that I need to be done working! Yay!

  20. I am currently experiencing the same thing. Having spent a few hours in the ER also due to the unexplainable abdominal pain and contractions. I am almost 37weeks and this pain has intensified since 34weeks.
    I do have golf sized fibroid only upper left abdominal area and a smaller one on my lower left quadrant where this burning, dull pain seems localized.
    I am not sure if anyone else here has fibroids and whether that might be an underlying factor, but this is definitely something worth more research and studies.

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