rss
Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 81:F157-F158 doi:10.1136/fn.81.2.F157
  • Perinatal lessons from the past

John Braxton Hicks (1823–97) and painless uterine contractions

  1. Peter M Dunn
  1. Department of Child Health Bristol University Southmead Hospital Southmead Bristol BS10 5NB
  1. Professor Peter Dunn.

    John Braxton Hicks was born in Rye, Sussex, in 1823. His father, Edward Hicks, was a Justice of the Peace and a banker from Lymington in Hampshire. After a private education near Winchester, John was apprenticed to Dr Fluder of Lymington. At the age of 18 he entered Guy’s Hospital Medical School, where he won many prizes and honours, as well as being a successful oarsman. Graduating MB from the University of London in 1847, he went on to obtain an MD in 1851.

    At first, wishing to marry, he entered general practice in Tottenham, but in 1858 was recruited by Guy’s Hospital as assistant obstetric physician. The following year he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London (Fellow, 1866). He also held diplomas from the Royal College of Surgeons and the Society of Apothecaries. In 1868 he was promoted full obstetric physician at Guy’s and in 1883 consulting physician. He also held appointments at St Mary’s Hospital, the Royal Maternity Charity, and the Royal Infirmary. (fig 1)1

    Figure 1

    John Braxton Hicks in 1872.

    Braxton Hicks had a natural aptitude for scientific research. Enthusiastic, inventive, intelligent and hard working, he also paid meticulous attention to detail. Recognised as a pioneer in midwifery, with 133 medical publications to his name, he is best known for being the first physician to describe bipolar version of the fetus2 and the painless rhythmic contractions of the uterus that occur throughout pregnancy.3

    On bipolar version of the fetus

    “The method I have found successful, and very easy of application, is conducted thus:- We will suppose the simplest condition, a case where the uterus is passive, membranes unbroken, the liquor amnii plentiful, the os uteri expanded sufficiently to detect the presentation, which is cephalic ... the left hand, with the usual precautions, into the vagina, …