What Do Contractions Feel Like

What Do Contractions Feel Like
A doctor listening to his patient's heartbeat with a stethoscope

Becoming a first-time mom can be an exciting experience. But for many, it also comes with a few common worries: When will I go into labor? What do contractions feel like, and do they hurt?

If you’re feeling a little nervous, don’t worry. It’s completely normal to be concerned about bringing a child into the world. Here’s some important information about the different types of contractions and how they feel.

What are contractions?

Contractions happen when your uterine muscles become shorter and tighter. Although they’re an important part of the labor process, having contractions doesn’t necessarily mean that your baby is on the way. There are many types of contractions.

Some contractions are your body’s way of preparing the uterine muscles for delivery. These uterine contractions shift your baby into the right position for birth.

Some contractions help with labor progress. They also help them through the birth canal. These contractions will become more intense and closer together as your pregnancy progresses.

Other contractions help your body recover from labor. They can take a few weeks to go away.

How do contractions feel: understanding the different types

It’s very common for first-time moms to wonder how contractions feel? Different types of contractions can cause a range of sensations. The way contractions feel can also vary from person to person.

Braxton Hicks contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions generally begin in your third trimester of pregnancy. They’re your body’s way of practicing for labor. You’re more likely to experience them in the afternoon or the evening. They become more regular as you approach your due date.

This type of contraction doesn’t become painful, longer, or closer together. They don’t cause cervical dilation.

If you’re wondering what early contractions feel like, here are a few common symptoms:

  • You might feel a tightening of your belly.
  • They’re usually not painful.
  • You’re more likely to feel them in your abdomen.
  • They might make you feel uncomfortable.

Prodromal labor

Prodromal labor is a precursor to fully active labor. It starts and stops around the same time each day and has regular intervals. Prodromal labor is often mistaken for real labor. Many mothers end up going to the hospital because they think they’re ready to give birth.

A large majority of women experience prodromal labor. It varies from person to person, but prodromal labor can start anywhere from days up to a month before active labor.

Many people confuse prodromal labor with Braxton-Hicks contractions. But there are major differences between the two:

  • Braxton-Hicks contractions are practice contractions. Prodromal labor helps prepare the body for active labor.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions can cause an uncomfortable feeling in your abdomen. But they’re never painful. Prodromal labor can be painful for many women.
  • Brixton-Hicks contractions are irregular and are not intense. Prodromal labor follows a regular pattern.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions don’t dilate the cervix. Prodromal labor can dilate the cervix.

Labor contractions

Labor contractions are the most intense contractions you’ll experience during your pregnancy. These contractions dilate your cervix up to 10 centimeters. Labor contractions signal that the time to deliver your baby is almost here.

Here’s what labor contractions feel like:

  • You’ll feel them at your back area before they move around your torso. You might also feel them in your lower abdomen.
  • Your legs will cramp and ache.
  • Some women describe contractions as strong menstrual cramps.
  • Lightheadedness and nausea may accompany the contractions.
  • You might also experience chills, vomiting, gas, defecation, and hot flashes.

Labor contractions last between 45 to 60 seconds, with a 3 to 5-minute break in between. When your cervix dilates from 7 to 10 centimeters, the contractions last from 60 to 90 seconds. But keep in mind that the experience is different for every woman.

Post-birth contractions

You might think that once you’ve delivered your baby, your body is done having contractions, but this isn’t the case.

Experiencing contractions after giving birth is completely natural. During pregnancy, your uterus grew to 25 times its original size, and now it has to get back to its pre-pregnancy size. Post-birth contractions are part of this process. These contractions also prevent you from bleeding after giving birth. And if you haven’t fully expelled the placenta, they’ll help you do so.

These cramps will be most intense during the first day or two after giving birth. Around the third day, they should become less intense and frequent. It can take about four to six weeks for your uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size.

What to do if you have contractions

There are different ways to deal with the pain of different types of contractions. You can do this with or without medication.

Braxton-Hicks contractions

You can ease the pain of Braxton Hicks contractions by:

  • Drinking lots of water
  • Eating
  • Relaxing

In most cases, these contractions fade when you change position or activity. For example, if you were walking when the contractions happened, try resting. Or if you were resting when the contractions started, going on a walk may help.

Labor contractions

Drug-free pain management methods can help women with their labor contractions. These includes:

  • Listening to music
  • Massage
  • Gentle yoga
  • Taking a shower or bath
  • Walking
  • Changing positions
  • Distracting yourself from the pain with games or counting

If these drug-free methods don’t work, these pain intervention methods might offer relief:

  • Spinal anesthesia will help you to completely block the pain.
  • Analgesics can help dull the pain, but you will still be able to move your muscles.

Post-birth contractions

Post-birth contractions can be very uncomfortable. One way to treat them is with cold packs if your doctor approves.

Contractions are what you feel when your body is preparing for labor. They can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Your doctor or midwife can offer advice on how to best to manage the discomfort.