Labor: What Do Contractions Feel Like?

It’s the one thing that all expectant mothers get a little (or a lot) nervous about. Among all the preparations you will need to make as you get ready for baby, one aspect most do not look forward to is the actual delivery. Going through labor and delivery is not exactly the most pleasant experience in the world, there’s no doubt about that. It’s the end result that makes the long 9 months and hours in labor that make it all worth while. The question that typically enters every new mom’s mind as they near the end of their pregnancy is ‘what do contractions feel like?’

Braxton Hicks Contractions

Many women often experience what is commonly referred to as false contractions or Braxton Hicks contractions sometime during their last trimester, but not all. These are not the same as labor pains. As your body begins to prepare for your baby’s debut you might feel mild menstrual-like cramps or a tightening. These are generally mild and may feel uncomfortable, but not painful.

Characteristics of False Contractions
Unlike real contractions, these will come and go and you may begin to experience them as early as the end of your second trimester.

  • Sporadic
  • Only lasts 30-60 seconds
  • Unpredictable
  • Ease up then go away; do not intensify
  • Only felt in the front of the abdomen

The Real Deal

So now you know what defines false contractions, but what do contractions feel like when it’s the real deal? Other mothers usually tell you ‘you’ll know when you feel them’, however labor is different for every woman. Some experience more intense symptoms than others. Real contractions are similar to Braxton Hicks, however they are more intense and, yes they are painful. If you are experiencing any of the following then it’s time to make a call to your doula or head to the hospital or birthing center you plan to deliver.

Characteristics of Real Contractions
Actual contractions are usually felt in the lower back first then progress to the front of the abdomen or vice versa.  Some may also experience pain in their sides.

  • Cause pain or a dull abdominal ache
  • Increase in intensity
  • Come at regular intervals growing closer together
  • Do not ease up or go away with change in positions
  • Pelvic pressure

When you start experiencing what feels like real contractions begin timing them. They may start out every ten minutes and will grow closer over time. If your contractions are 2 minutes apart or less, it’s time go-time.

Signs of Labor

While every woman experiences labor differently, one sign that all experience are contractions. Some women often describe labor as the feeling of needing to go to the bathroom. These are other  signs that labor has begun and your little one is on their way to make their arrival:

  • Pelvic pressure that intensifies
  • Your water breaks or steadily leaking fluid
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden burst of energy
  • Strong contractions

If you experience any of the above symptoms or suspect you may be having contractions call your doctor right away. A doctor can typically tell tell over the phone whether you are experiencing true labor or not. Never hesitate to call or go to the hospital if you feel something is wrong.

*We know how anxious you are to meet your new baby, however it is ideal to remain pregnant for at least 39 weeks. Please refer to our guide on Preemies to find out how you can avoid preterm labor.

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