After nine to ten long months of pregnancy you likely are hoping every little twitch is a contraction. You think to yourself, “maybe I’m in labor now and I just don’t know it,” and if this is your first child, how are you to know what a contraction feels like? When are you in true labor? Should you be at the hospital? As a mom of three, I’ll do what I can to give you a better idea of what contractions feel like.
Braxton Hicks contractions:
Braxton Hicks contractions are the warm up for the real thing. They generally don’t hurt, but if they do the pain will be solely in the abdomen. These contractions can be best described as a tightening of the abdominal muscles. They occur most frequently in the third trimester, sometimes in the second, and can be brought on by physical activity or sexual intercourse. Not all women experience Braxton Hicks contractions. They will be irregular and usually go away with time or position changes.
Early Labor Contractions:
At least in all of my labors, there was a distinct difference between early labor contractions and OMG here-the-baby-comes contractions. Early labor contractions will occur at a steady rate of time and not decrease or go away with time or position changes like Braxton Hicks contractions. They mark the start of your labor and will feel again like a tightening of the abdominal muscles, but because early labor contractions do affect the cervix, they may cause slight pain or discomfort. Once early labor contractions occur every 5 to 10 minutes you should get to a hospital or contact your doctor if you are birthing at home. Early labor contractions also tend to be wave-like and do subside. Depending on your pain tolerance level, you may not really feel these. In my labor where my water did break, the machine at the hospital registered contractions far before I felt them. In fact, I was dilated to a 6 before I felt anything at all. (10 is time to push)
Transitional Labor contractions:
The only way I can think to explain the feeling of a transitional labor contraction is to image that achy painful throbbing that occurs when you smash a finger or toe, now imagine this pain in your abdomen. You will also likely feel the urge to bear down and push or may feel like you have to poop. Some women equate the feeling of transitional labor contractions to that of very bad menstrual cramps, either way when contractions reach this extreme the baby is close. If you don’t have someone to deliver your baby, you need to get to them asap. Transitional labor contractions are less wave-like and hurt far more frequently. When these start you will know it.
In many labors, the bag of waters never breaks, mine didn’t with 2 of 3. Some women lose a mucus plug from the cervix before or after early labor contractions begin. No single labor is the same and many women describe contractions in varying ways, but in my experience this is what contractions in the various forms feel like. I hope this has helped ease you’re wondering, and waiting, and congratulations on your new baby.