As you near your due date, you’re probably starting to wonder whether a belly ache could be mistaken for Braxton Hicks contractions, or worry that you’re not going to know a labor contraction when it happens. We have the answers to all your biggest questions about what contractions feel like.
What is a Contraction?
A contraction is tightening of a pregnant woman’s uterus. The uterine muscle can contract any time from mid pregnancy on, and those contractions might feel like nothing at all, or they might be completely overwhelming.
You can identify a contraction because your belly will get super hard and tight, and when it’s over, it will soften and relax back to normal.
What Do Labor Contractions Feel Like?
Labor contractions are the real deal. When you go into labor naturally, your water might break but more commonly, you’ll know it’s time to have a baby when you start getting these true contractions. Labor contractions help your cervix begin to efface and dilate, and eventually they help push the baby out of the uterus and make their big debut (yay!)
Some say labor contractions feel a bit like menstrual cramps at first, but then they intensify. Then, contractions feel like a dull ache paired with pelvic pressure. The discomfort moves from the top of the belly to the bottom—think of it as pushing your baby down and out. Because every mom has a different pain threshold, and every pregnancy is unique, how they describe the sensation of a contraction can really vary.
Eventually, contractions feel like a practical tidal wave; over time, they’ll become so overwhelmingly strong there’ll be no denying you have them. (Seriously, mama.) So don’t worry too much about not being able to recognize them.
Regardless of what contractions feel like to you, there are few ways to know they mean you’re really in labor:
- They come more often: Labor contractions steadily speed up, happening more and more frequently.
- They get stronger: These contractions get more and more intense as time goes on.
- They’re unstoppable: Instead of being sporadic, labor contractions become more and more regular. There’s no stopping these guys.
In labor, contractions last for at least 30 seconds each. If you’re having one at least every 15 minutes, you’re probably in labor.
Go to the hospital when the contractions are five minutes apart and last for a minute each, for at least one hour. But follow your doctor’s advice, since your health history and how far away you are from the hospital or birthing center could factor in. First-time moms tend to be in labor longer than women who’ve had a baby before do, so if you’ve had a baby before, you probably want to head there pronto if you’re unsure.