What Do Contractions Feel Like?

New mothers may wonder what contractions feel like. Contractions are the rhythmic activity in the muscles of the uterus as they tense and relax before childbirth. Even though each contraction affects the entire uterus, a few women only feel it in one area of their back or abdomen. However, many women explain that labor contractions often feel like a wave, beginning at the top of the abdomen, that travels both inwards and downwards toward the pelvis. Whereas all women agree, the contraction gradually builds up, and intensifies as the cervix becomes more dilated in the first stages of labor.

What Do Contractions Feel Like?

Some pregnant women might feel a dull ache in the lower back; while others say they feel contractions beginning in their back that work slowly back around to the front as the contraction progresses. Every woman's contraction may be different, and every pregnant woman experiences contractions at different levels. These contractions may begin as a mild cramp-like pressure that can feel uncomfortable, or even downright painful. However, contractions are temporary, and after each contraction there is a period of time for rest to prepare for the next contraction.

1. Labor Contractions as Pain

For the women who do feel pain during labor, they might experience different types of pain in the lower back and uterus. Others mayfeel the pain in various areas during the labor contraction such as pain that begins in the uterus radiating towards the lower back, or from the lower back to the uterus. Some pregnant women only feel pain in one specific area, but what they all agree on is that any pain becomes more intense as the labor contractions progresses.Furthermore, as the contractions get closer together, it leaves less recovery time between contractions.

2. Labor Contractions as Pressure

What do contractions feel like when there is also pressure?In the later stages of labor when the contractions are close together, most women will feel as though they are having a bowel movement along with strong urges to push.This is a type of pressure that intensifies as the uterus tightens, and is perfectly natural as the baby's head presses down on the cervix. It is a strong indication that the baby is beginning to enter the birth canal and delivery is imminent. While the pressure is technically unrelated to the contractions, it can be an added discomfort of the contractions themselves.

3. Whole-Body Contractions

Hypertonic uterine dysfunction is a potential complication that can lead to whole body contractions, and is sometimes brought on by labor inducing drugs like Pitocin. These types of contractions are defined as a frequency of 5 or more contractions within a 10 minute time frame, or a series of single contractions lasting 2 minutes or longer. If uterine contractions become too powerful, they can become very painful, and lead to a feeling of temporary paralysis or a shortness of breath. You'll need to remember to take deep breaths, and some women find relief by repositioning themselves, such as getting on their hands and knees, or squatting down.

Real Experiences of Moms

"When I was pregnant with my first child and before I went into labor, I remember deciding to get the epidural, but when the medicine began to work, it only worked for half of my body. My left side was bearable while my right side felt like it was being twisted and squeezed as far as it would go. Additionally, now that I have had three kids, the difference betweencontractions with and without Pitocin is like night and day.” – Alice

"I had normal textbook contractions in my first pregnancy. So what do contractions feel like? My contractions started at my sides and worked their way to the middle of my abdomen. However, my second pregnancy was completely different. I suffered from severe pain as my contractions started in the lower back and moved to the front of my lower abdomen and into my pelvis. They were really painful after my water broke, and with every contraction I felt the urge to push.” –Cathy

"Well the first time I didn't feel any Braxton Hicks or maybe I did and didn't know what they were. I could only describe them as a funny sensation in my belly. I didn't feel any cramps until later on. As I progressed through pregnancy, I definitely felt the tightening, and a hardening feeling like intense cramps, but they were all in my abdomen area, and nothing in my back." – Sarah

"What do contractions feel like? They begin by feeling like normal cramps, but after a few hours they get stronger and feel like terrible menstrual cramps. Then you will begin feeling some stinging and burning in your vaginal opening due to dilation. After that you will feel your cervix begin to open and every few hours they get stronger and last longer. It is the worst pain ever." – Judy

"I had a run of contractions without labor every 2 minutes. The way I can describe it is, you know how the muscles in your back and abdomen contract and you have no choice to stop it, that's how it feels! Your whole belly will become taught and tense to the touch and it will relax once again when the contraction stops. It is like a spasm you can't stop that uses all of your back muscles and abdominal muscles at once." – Linda

What About Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Now you've got some ideas of "what do contractions feel like" you may wonder, do Braxton Hicks contractions feel the same? Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and weak contractions of the uterus occurring during pregnancy. Most women claim these "false" contractions feel like mild menstrual cramps. Although these contractions may be uncomfortable, they do not cause labor. Braxton Hicks contractions usually:

  • Don't get closer together
  • Are not regular
  • Don't increase when walking
  • Are not usually painful
  • Don't last longer over time
  • Are not stronger over time

Braxton Hicks contractions usually occur as early in your second trimester or during the third trimester. They are normal, and if they are making you uncomfortable:

  • Get some rest
  • Take a walk
  • Get a massage
  • Relax with a warm bath
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