Pregnancy is a hard time for most women. Some women absolutely love it and want to be pregnant all the time, while others have a difficult time. This can be because of constantly being sick or with different pains while being pregnant. Pregnant women work so hard trying to keep themselves and the baby safe for nine long months. It can take a toll on a woman mentally, emotionally, and physically. And at the end of it all what does a woman get? Well, yes she gets a baby. But before that she has to endure even more pain and work her way through labor contractions.
Before a woman gets pregnant, this might all sound like gibberish but there are actually very good explanations for everything. When I was pregnant with my first child, I had no idea what contractions would feel like, or when to go to the hospital. People tell you that you’ll just know, but that’s not always true! Well I called my doctor after having contractions for 24 hours and he told me to come in to check just to be sure. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was having contractions or if they were Braxton hicks. They ended up sending me home and they told me the most important thing they measure when a woman comes into labor and delivery. They said that it all has to do with how hard a woman’s contractions are.
That didn’t help me much then, but after two natural deliveries, I have learned a lot more about contractions — useful and not so useful information. Here are 15 things you need to know about contractions.
15 Why Contractions Start
While there is endless advice out there about how to jumpstart labor, some doctors suggest that it actually doesn’t have much to do with what the mother does. So for all you moms out there around your due date, sorry to say that due dates are just guesses!
Research has shown that the baby is really the one who decides when labor begins. When the baby’s lungs are mature, they secrete a protein called surfactant. Surfactant is what a baby needs to breathe outside the womb. When this protein is released, it signals all the other hormones in your body basically saying, “hey, it’s time to get the baby out”. Oxytocin also plays a big part in labor as well. When the baby begins to lower, it puts pressure on your cervix which releases oxytocin. The oxytocin then thins and dilates your cervix and causes contractions. Oxytocin is also the hormone that gets your breast milk going and makes you all kinds of emotional.
14 You Know You're Having One When...
Well the simple answer to this is that it all depends. It’s hard to explain because no two women feel the same exact thing. One woman can even have different contractions from one birth to another. Contractions are often compared to menstrual cramps, except they are much more intense. Sometimes women feel a burning sensation while other women feel stabbing pains. It’s even possible to experience contractions in your back.
However, labor contractions most often always follow a pattern. They can be described as a wave. At first it’s just a very subtle pain. Then it keeps increasing in intensity until it reaches it’s peak. It may stay at its peak for a couple seconds and then it goes back down. The timing also depends on how far along you are in the labor process. Although it’s very unlikely, some women say that their contractions were not as intense as expected.
13 Deceptive Kinds Of Contractions
With my first pregnancy, I didn’t feel a single contraction until I was in labor. Although it’s possible that I had some Braxton hicks and didn’t feel them. With my second pregnancy, I experienced contractions many nights during the last month of my pregnancy. However, they weren't the right kind of contraction I wanted.
Braxton hicks feel kind of like contractions, but they are not as intense. They do not help you dilate at all. They also go away when you change positions or when you drink water. Another tell tale sign of Braxton hicks is that they are very inconsistent. You will be able to time labor contractions and they will eventually get closer together. However, there is no rhyme or reason to Braxton hicks. They will happen five minutes apart and then you won’t get another one for an hour. So while you might be experiencing contractions, and while they very well might hurt, if they are Braxton hicks, they aren’t helping you get the baby out.
12 Early Pain Other Than Braxton Hicks
Most women experience round ligament pain during their pregnancy. Sometimes women can mistake it for contractions, especially if it’s a woman’s first pregnancy. I mean it’s not like they know what contractions feel like with their first baby, so it’s completely understandable.
Round ligament pain usually happens in the second trimester, so it makes sense that a pregnant woman would worry if she thought she were having contractions that early in her pregnancy. Round ligament pain is usually a sharp pain that occurs in your groin or the lower part of your belly, especially if you move suddenly. The reason for this pain is that the ligaments in your uterus are stretching and thickening to support your growing uterus. They are usually okay, but definitely call your doctor if you think something is wrong. They are not like contractions in that you can’t time them, and the pain will go away.
11 They Can Start Well In Advance
I find this a fun question, because it’s so hard to say. As a mom who has delivered two children naturally, I can confidently say that I know when it’s time to go to the hospital. However, as a first time mom, I had absolutely no clue.
One of the things doctors tell you is to follow the 5-1-1 rule. That means that you are having contractions five minutes apart, lasting one minute long, for at least an hour. However, that doesn’t usually work for most moms. With my first labor, I had contractions five minutes apart, lasting for over one minute, for 8 hours and I still wasn’t ready to go to the hospital. Some will say that if you can’t walk or talk through your contractions, then it’s time to go to the hospital. But that one is just so tricky when you’re a first time mom because basically you have to go when you feel you’re ready, and you are feeling everything for the first time!
10 Contractions Are Necessary
Sorry to say, but contractions are absolutely necessary for you to have your baby. They will feel different to each person, but they are still necessary. So what exactly are contractions and what do they do? Well, when you experience contractions, they are tightening the upper part of your uterus and helping the muscle to shrink. While that is going on, the lower part of the uterus is stretching and relaxing. These contractions are literally helping your uterus push your baby into the birth canal and getting your body ready to deliver your precious baby.
The whole process is actually pretty cool. I mean, probably not when you’re actually going through the process. But after you are holding your baby in your arms, it’s amazing to think about what your body did to grow and deliver this baby. Your body was made for this, and you can absolutely do it.
9 Always An Exception To The Rule
Okay so maybe I lied a little. I know I just said you cannot have the baby without contractions, but technically you can. If a pregnant woman gets induced, they usually give her medicine to start contractions, which gets your body ready to deliver the baby. So even if a woman is induced she still experiences contractions.
However, if someone get’s a C-section before going into labor, she might not ever experience contractions. If her doctor see’s something abnormal on an ultrasound or if she is having weird symptoms, her doctor might decide to do a C-section instead of inducing or waiting for labor. This is very common if a woman is pregnant with multiples. If a woman has a history that the doctor is worried about, they could also schedule a C-section as well. There are a number of different scenarios that will lead to someone not experiencing contractions. However, it’s not as likely as you going into labor.
8 Different Ways To Manage The Pain
There are many different choices for pain management. The most common form of pain management is the epidural. This will numb the lower half of your body so you don’t feel contractions or birth. There are good and bad things to the epidural, so just make sure you do your research. You can read this article (7 Reasons To Get An Epidural And 7 Reasons Not To) to find out about the pros and cons of an epidural. If you don’t want to get an epidural but you still want something to dull the pain a little, there are some medications that your doctor can give you.
If you want to deliver without any pain medication, there are many different ways to help you manage the pain naturally. There are different spots to massage or there are various positions that will make the pain less intense. If you want to deliver without any pain medication, it might be worth taking a natural childbirth class.
7 Contractions During Early Labor
The early stage of labor is when your contractions will really begin. However, they will be pretty manageable. This stage lasts until your contractions help you dilate to 3 cm. Your contractions could only be every 20 minutes at this point and they might not last very long. It will probably feel more like cramps instead of full on contractions. If you are a first time mom, it’s possible that you won’t notice you’re even having contractions. You will be able to walk and talk through these contractions and should be able to continue your normal routine. You might even head into work or go to the grocery store if you don’t realize. During the early stage of labor with my first pregnancy, I went to Chipotle and it was a great time. However, if you do notice, you might want to stay home and prepare for the baby coming.
6 Contractions During Active Labor
This stage of labor will last longer, and the contractions will become more intense. Your contractions will help your body get from 3cm to 10cm. The contractions during this stage will last about a minute and you will have about three to four minutes between contractions. When doctors give you the 5-1-1 rule and tell you to come in, then this is the stage they are talking about. At the beginning of this stage you will be very uncomfortable, but you should be able to walk and talk through contractions. As your contractions continue, they will get stronger and more uncomfortable. Soon enough, you won’t be able to walk and talk through your contractions. If you aren’t at the hospital yet, now is the time to go. Or you need to call your midwife if you are having a home birth. You are definitely in labor and the baby will be coming soon!
5 Contractions During Transitional Labor
This stage occurs when you are about 8cm dilated. Your contractions have been doing their job and have helped you progress and helped your baby move into the birthing canal. Your contractions may still be every three minutes, but they will be extremely uncomfortable. Walking and talking is not even a thought in your mind. You might also get other symptoms such as nausea or the shakes. Some women even start feeling the urge to push. Your contractions are working over time now and it won’t be long before you see your baby. If you are wanting to do this without pain relief, you need to focus on breathing techniques now more than ever. If you don’t think you can make it without any pain medication, you need to ask your doctor for something soon. Once you pass a certain point in your labor, they won’t be able to give you any form of pain relief.
4 Contractions Are Not Only Felt In The Bump
There are some women who say that they didn’t know they were in labor until they were very far along. Most of the time, these women experience back labor instead of the traditional contractions. While back labor is extremely uncomfortable, most pregnant women think they are just having back pains and do not think they are in labor. Once a woman progresses far enough in labor, she will feel traditional contractions, but she will also continue to feel that uncomfortable back pain.
Sometimes this can be caused by the position of the baby. When baby is facing the mother's stomach, the pressure of the back of the baby’s head can cause the back pain when it applies pressure to mom’s tailbone. If you are experiencing back labor, it’s usually more comfortable to not lay on your back. However, changing position can only help so much. The only thing that will stop the pain is getting the baby out!
3 Contractions Don't Always Come Alone
Early on in the labor process, women will pass their mucus plug which is also known as the bloody show. This will most likely be during the stage of labor where contractions are very subtle and feel more like cramps. In the beginning of pregnancy, some mucus accumulates and thickens, sealing the cervix. This protects the fetus from infection. When your body gets ready for labor, that mucus will thin out and drop. When you are further along in labor, you will have more bleeding. When your cervix continues to dilate, more fluid, blood, and mucus will make its way out before the baby. This is why you probably need to cover your bed, birthing ball, or anything else you will be using during labor. If bleeding is heavy, that can be a cause for concern. It’s best to call your doctor if you have any concerns or think something is wrong.
2 What About Pitocin Induced Contractions?
Pitocin is the synthetic version of oxytocin — the hormone that gets your labor started naturally. Doctor’s use pitocin to force contractions when there isn’t anything going on. This can be for a variety of reasons. If you won’t go into labor and your doctor wants to induce you, they will give you pitcoin. If you are stalled out at 6cm for a lengthy amount of time, your doctor might try pitocin to get your contractions going again as it’s dangerous to both you and baby to sit there for too long. Another time a doctor might start you on pitocin is if your water breaks and you still aren’t having contractions within a certain amount of time. So pitocin can be great for helping your body get your little one out and avoiding a C-section. However, many women report that pitocin induced contractions are far more painful. But if they get the baby out, it will be worth it!
1 Contractions Don't End When The Baby Comes
I promise this is the last bit of bad news that I have for you. You will continue to have contractions after you deliver. But they will not feel the same as your labor contractions. When you spend nine months growing a baby, your uterus is growing as well. After you give birth, your uterus needs time to shrink back. It will take some time, and it will be a little uncomfortable. Sometimes they will be painful enough that you might need to take pain medication. These pains are known as afterpains. Your uterus is literally contracting back to the size it was before you got pregnant. The hormones that are released while you breastfeed can help your uterus shrink back to size quicker, but it will also be more painful while you breastfeed. Your nurse will probably come in often to check your stomach to see how it’s contracting back to size.