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What do contractions feel like?

According to medical professionals, everyone’s experience with contractions can be different (surprise, surprise).

 

What contractions feel like for you could be completely different from the person in the triage room next to you.  So how can you know exactly what your contractions will feel like?

 

There are a few common answers.  Some say labor contractions sometimes feel like really bad menstrual cramps.

 

You may feel the muscles around the uterus tighten.  So you could feel discomfort within your abdomen, along the right or left sides, or in your back.

 

Strong gas pain is another common comparison for contraction pain.

 

Labor could begin as a pain in your back and evolve into your abdomen.  Or start on your right or left side and move to your back.

 

OK, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the “what do contractions feel like” question.  But let’s explore what different types of contractions can feel like in different stages.

 

What are the different types of contractions?

 

There are three kinds of contractions.

 

  • Braxton Hicks contractions:  These can occur any time after five or six months into your pregnancy. Or you might not have them at all.  They prime your body for delivery, but they don’t actually cause dilation or effacement.

 

  • False contractions:  Sike! These contractions are irregular.  They don’t get worse or more frequent. They usually stop if you change positions.

 

  • Labor contractions:  Real contractions intensify with increased activity, and don’t go away when you change positions. They become more frequent throughout the day or night.  These contractions usually last 30 to 70 seconds.  Real labor contractions will eventually product a blood-streaked “bloody show.”  They often occur with an upset stomach or diarrhea.

 

What causes labor contractions?

 

It’s still largely a mystery what exactly triggers real labor contractions.

 

The best guess of medical professionals is that a fetus’s brain triggers a chemical message to your body.  That message then causes hormones to fire that trigger contractions in your body.

 

What do contractions feel like?

 

Early labor contractions can feel like an upset stomach or heavy menstrual cramping.

 

You may feel pain in the lower abdomen or in the lower back.  However, that location of contractions is not the most reliable indicator of labor.  More reliable signals include the frequency and regularity of your contractions.

 

When to call your doctor about contractions

 

A good rule of thumb is to call your practitioner when contractions are five to seven minutes apart.

 

If you’re not sure if you’re in real labor, better safe than sorry.  Don’t wait for intervals between contractions to be perfectly regulated.  That may never happen.

 

Also don’t be concerned to have a false alarm.  You won’t be the first – probably not even the first of the day – to do so.  Err on the side of caution.

 

When to head to the hospital immediately

 

Call your doctor if you experience any of the following:

 

  • Contractions are increasingly strong

 

  • Your water breaks

 

  • You feel the umbilical cord slip into your cervix or vaginal canal

 

How long is a contraction?

 

So what do contractions feel like?

 

The average contraction can vary in length, intensity and frequency.  Variances are due to how far along you are when you enter labor.

 

Early labor: 30 to 45 second contractions.

 

Active labor: 40 to 60 seconds.

 

Transitional labor: 60 to 90 seconds and coming about two to three minutes apart.

 

Pushing and delivery: 60 to 90 seconds, at longer intervals and less painful.