Welcoming a new baby is amazing — but getting there can be extremely painful. Moms can spend their entire pregnancy dreading the delivery because of the crazy things called contractions that they have to experience before the baby arrives.
But if moms think about contractions in a different way, they might go into their labor with more confidence. They are the actions of a muscle, and they bring the baby closer to the world. And the facts show that while they can be painful, they shouldn't always be feared.
The truth is that early contractions can be undetectable, and that can be a little unsettling, since that might mean that a woman's labor sneaks up on her, leaving her in a rush to get to the hospital in time. Other women can have them going on for months. Sometimes, moms and doctors can help contractions get started and sometimes they have the ability to stop them.
Each situation is different, but knowing the facts about contractions can help moms in figuring out what is going on with their bodies. This guide might make a difference in helping her feel more informed about her delivery. Here are 10 unsettling things women need to know about contractions.
20 Sometimes Moms Don't Feel Them
Most moms dread their first contraction, but the truth is that they rarely ever feel the first time. Sometimes women can be hooked up to a non-stress test and find out that they are having regular contractions but they don't feel a thing.
Labor and delivery can be a really protracted event. It can start really slow, with the contractions being pretty far apart and very light. Some women don't feel the pain until their birth canal is already four or more centimeters open. But usually they get intense after a while and the mom will be thankful that at least some of her labor progressed without pain.
19 They Get Worse When The Water Breaks
Moms understand that labor can be progressive, which means that the pain gets worse over time. But they may not know that there is a turning point. When the mom's water breaks, things can speed up in a way that she never imagined — and it can be a lot more painful.
The amniotic sac can provide a major cushion for the mom and the baby, but when it breaks, that is gone. This is so true that doctors often ask to manually break the water if the mom's labor isn't progressing. It can get things going and bring on the pain, so moms need to be prepared for that.
18 They Can Happen At Six Weeks
The uterus is a muscle, and it can start contracting at any time. That's what menstrual cramps are, so it shouldn't be too surprising to learn that it can happen at any point during the pregnancy, even if they aren't true labor ones. In fact, according to the blog All About Women, the first contractions can come as early as six weeks pregnant.
That early in pregnancy moms don't feel the baby move, and they certainly don't feel the contractions. But that can be true later on. Most of the time they don't produce anything, but doctors might put a mom going through early contractions on modified bed rest. A lot of times, though, it's just a normal annoyance.
17 You Can Feel Them In Your Legs
While contractions happen in the uterus, moms don't just feel them in their midsection. We've already talked about how they can be felt in the back, but moms might be surprised that some women feel them in their legs.
That's because the pain radiates out from the center of the woman's body. It can shoot into the upper half of the legs and make women double over even more than they thought. For women who have epidurals, this isn't an issue because anything below the abdomen gets numb, but it can be weirdly painful for women who try to go through labor without meds.
16 The Baby's Position Determines Contractions
Doctors talk about whether or not the baby has turned to the head down position because of how that impacts the labor. But they never talk about the direction the baby is facing, and yet that also has a big effect on the kind of pain that the mom goes through during childbirth.
The baby is actually supposed to be facing to the mom's back for things to proceed the way that the mom might expect. But if the baby is turned to face the belly, that actually means she will feel the contractions in her back. Babies who are halfway between (facing the side) can cause even more painful contractions and a slower progression to labor, so doulas recommend that moms do some lunges to try to get the baby to move.
15 But Mom's Position Factors In Too!
The baby's position in the womb isn't the only position that matters in terms of how the mom deals with contractions. A lot of women think that they need to be in the hospital bed, but that can make her even more uncomfortable.
Moving into a more upright position, such as sitting on a yoga ball, might make the contractions more intense, but that's because the labor will progress quicker. She can also tolerate the pain better because her body goes with the feeling. Moms should consider getting on their hands and knees for back labor and there are times when they might be more comfortable on their sides. It's important to move around and find out what works for them.
14 Doctors Can Induce Them
For some women, going into labor doesn't come as naturally as one would expect. Others might have conditions that make it worrisome to wait until the baby is overdue, so sometimes it's necessary that moms turn to their doctors for some help in getting things going.
After using some interventions to begin softening things down below, doctors can prescribe a synthetic hormone known as pitocin that mimics the natural hormone that triggers contractions. Many women say that induced contractions are more painful than the ones that begin naturally, but the process can be life-saving for some babies, and it may stop the mom from having to go through surgery.
13 They Can Feel Like A Backache
For the majority of women, uterine contractions are felt on the belly. They start at the upper part and move down over time. But that's not the case for everybody. Some moms end up feeling their contractions in their backs.
The uterus is contracting the same way, but it can feel more like an ache than the wave-like tightening of contractions. That can make it harder to tell that labor has begun. But the backache usually gets progressively worse. Most of the time, the labor moves to the front at some point, but the backache can be just as painful as regular contractions.
12 Contractions Can Stop Postpartum Hemorrhages
Contractions have a lot of benefits. Before birth, they are moving the baby closer to the birth canal and then out of it. Afterward, they have the benefit of helping to staunch postpartum leaking.
Nurses and doulas will help the mom after the birth by rubbing on their uterus to try to get it to contract more so it can stop the leaking that can happen after the baby comes out. We're not talking about the regular discharge, which will continue for several weeks after the birth, but postpartum hemorrhaging is one of the most dangerous complications that can happen, so it's a good thing the contractions try to stop it.
11 Dad Can Also Get Them Started
We've already talked about how the doctor can induce contractions to get labor started, but many parents would prefer to try to go into labor naturally. The good news is that there are a lot of options to try, and dad can be the best partner in getting things going.
According to an old wives' tale, having some fun in the bedroom can be one of the most successful ways to get things going. If he pays attention to the parts up top, that's even more likely to begin the contractions. That doesn't mean that parents should worry about getting together before the big event, but if the due date is close, they might bring on the contractions.
10 Real Contractions Come In A Pattern
Some contractions are just part of life during pregnancy. That's especially true for second-time moms and others who get what are called Braxton Hicks contractions. They may not be painful, but they can feel like early labor and that might cause a woman to panic and go to the hospital.
It can be difficult for some to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and labor ones. The biggest difference is that labor contractions come in a pattern. They may not be entirely regular in the very earliest stages, but if they come every 20 or 30 minutes at regular intervals, that is a sign that labor has begun. It might be a while still, but a pattern shows that it is true labor.
9 Doctors Might Be Able To Stop Them
Pre-term labor is one of the most worrisome experiences that a mom can go through, especially when it comes even before the third trimester begins. Doctors don't always know why early contractions come, but luckily they do have some interventions that might be able to stop or slow them.
In addition to giving the mom steroids in an attempt to help the lungs mature, doctors will try magnesium and fluids to stop the contractions. It doesn't always work, but it's possible that the intervention could give the baby more days, weeks or even months to grow and develop before the birth.
8 Braxton Hicks Contractions Can Linger For Months
After doing research, a lot of women know that they could experience labor for days, but they don't realize that it's possible for them to deal with contractions for months. This is mostly the Braxton Hicks kind of contractions, so often they aren't at all painful. But that doesn't mean that they aren't alarming.
While the birth canal may be softening, the feeling is more about twinges in the uterus. Doctors aren't sure what the point is, but it can promote plasma flow to the area. Sometimes Braxton Hicks only last for a few hours and then they go away, but sometimes they linger for months. Moms might have a dozen or so contractions a day for the entire third trimester.
7 Contractions Can Be Brought On By Stress
Moms can go into labor at any time, and often doctors can't really explain what the onset of the contractions might be. But there are several factors that could be involved. For one, research has shown that women who are in high-stress situations are more likely to go into labor.
All moms experience some stress during pregnancy between the worries about their health and the baby as well as the financial strain and home life change. But major events like natural disasters or major traumatic events can be so hard on the body that they can start contractions. It can even spur early labor, so moms need to do what they can to manage the situation and their reaction.
6 Doctors Aren't Sure If The Baby Feels Contractions
We know that moms feel pain when they go through contractions and prepare for childbirth, but we still don't know what the baby goes through. It's not as if we can ask the newborn how the experience felt, so research has left us with little answers as to how contractions impact the baby during labor.
There is some evidence that contractions stress the baby, as the heartbeat is likely to go up during contractions and level out afterward. But it's unclear if the baby actually experiences pain. Sure, they get squished, but that's not necessarily a bad thing since it expels the water from the lungs. In the end, though, the baby won't remember the contractions, and most moms forget their own pain once they finally meet their baby.
5 Drinking Water Can Stop Early Contractions
Hydration is important in pregnancy. It can help in the mom's and the baby's health, but most of all it can stave off early contractions. If the mom is dehydrated, she's a lot more likely to go into labor, and that can be an alarming idea if it comes too early in the pregnancy.
It's not really clear whey the contractions would begin, but muscles need water to be sure that they have all that they need. If the mom gets Braxton Hicks contractions, especially during the summer, the doctor is going to encourage her to drink water. Things might calm down once she gets more hydrated.
4 Transition Contractions Are The Hardest
Labor is a process, and that means that contractions don't remain the same for the entire event. They can start off light, and that could make a woman feel complacent. She might start to feel over-confident and believe that she doesn't have to think about pain relief, either natural or in the form of meds. But we promise, that's not true.
By the time the mom gets to the transition phase, contractions aren't a walk in the park. When the body is working to get the cervix open by those last few centimeters, it can take a lot of force in a short amount of time. The transition phase is intense and those contractions are some of the hardest. So if you want to have an epidural, we suggest you ask for the anesthesiologist before you end up in transition.
3 One-Sided Contractions Can Happen
Weirdly, it's possible that a mom could experience contractions only on one side of her body. It's a very strange situation that is probably even more uncomfortable than going through full contractions, so moms need to prepare a bit mentally for that.
This phenomenon usually happens when the mom has an epidural that isn't placed properly. The anesthesiologist does his best to get the needle in the correct spot, but he asks the mom during the procedure if it feels like it is in the middle to try to avoid this. It could only work on one side, which means the same amount of pain but an even stranger situation. Moms need to speak up during the procedure to try to avoid this.
2 Women Describe The Pain Differently
We'd like to be able to warn moms about what contractions feel like, but the truth is that women describe the sensations in very different ways. It's not just about individual people; the experience can be unique for each pregnancy, as some second-time moms say that things feel different each time.
Some say that contractions feel like tightening — that is what the muscle is doing. But others describe it as a stabbing pain. For some, it radiates out from the belly, and for others, it's an ache that won't go away. Things can get progressively worse as the mom gets closer to delivery, but other than that, it's hard to describe what it will be like for the next mom.
1 Contractions Can Last For Weeks After The Birth
After going through contractions for hours or even days, moms really want them to be over. But once the pushing is done, the contractions aren't. Thankfully, though, they are a lot less painful after the baby is out.
Postpartum contractions happen so that the uterus shrinks back almost to the size that it was before the pregnancy. It needs to go down a lot right after the birth, which helps in stopping hemorrhaging, but it can take a month or two before things shrink to where they need to be. The contractions can surprise a new mom since they aren't regular. Many times breastfeeding triggers them, but that's okay because it just helps the mom regain her pre-baby body at least a little bit.
Sources: All About Women MD Blog, Baby Chakra, Unity Point, Pregnancy Statistics