There’s often an assumption that everyone knows what a contraction feels like when, in reality, many women have no idea, right?
A good start is to know just what's going on with your body when you're having one: so, basically, a contraction is when the muscles of the uterus tense and relax, passing in waves from the top, travelling inwards and downwards.
As these muscles stretch and relax, the neck of the uterus (cervix) starts to open until it’s fully dilated, and then the baby moves deeper into your pelvis.
Although a contraction affects the whole of the uterus, some women only feel it in one area of their abdomen or back.
Most consider labour to be painful, but the first stage of labour tends to start gradually and build up, with the contractions intensifying as the cervix becomes more dilated.
When it comes to know if contractions are starting - pay attention to how your back feels. Most women feel a dull ache through their lower back when they are experiencing labour contractions.
In fact, many women say that they feel their contractions start in their back and slowly wrap around to the front as the contraction progresses.
Some mums-to-be feel the pain through every nerve ending, whereas others find it easier to bear. After each contraction there’s a period of rest, which helps you to relax and prepare for the next one.
Contractions are temporary, and for many women it’s this thought and the baby ‘prize’ at the end that helps them to cope. ?
What our midwife says
“Contractions feel different to different women but generally they start like period-type pains low down, with some discomfort in your back and then become stronger and lasting longer,” says midwife Anne Richley.
“The pain isn’t continual but comes and goes in waves, until eventually they’ll be roughly every five minutes, lasting almost a minute. The contraction builds in intensity but then tails off again, giving you a break in between,” she says.
“Moving around can help you to cope with the sensations and you will naturally find the position that is more comfortable to tolerate the contractions,” she explains.
“Braxton Hicks are more of a ‘tightening’ of the uterus rather than a contraction, and although can feel uncomfortable, wouldn’t feel painful,” Anne adds.
Real mums tell all
Contractions are always a hot topic in our forum. Check out what other mums have to say about their experience...
“Initially they will feel like tightenings but they will be irregular at first. With time they become regular and more painful and that is generally the time to get yourself to hospital,” says LindyJ1983.
“For me they were like bad period pains. The pains could be the baby working its way down.
"Especially as your shape has changed. My bump dropped over a month before due date and due date was still late,” says hayls.
“I think people describe them as period pains but 10 times worse. A few days ago I think I had a contraction. It was like a wave of pain the got worse and worse and worse and then slowly started to ease off again and it lasted for about 30 seconds.
More like this
"It was like period pains but a lot worse! I think that was a contraction but not had any since!” says anonymous.
“I'm finding my contractions at the moment are like period cramps, in my lower bump and back.
"Your tummy goes all tight, they can be very painful but some people find they don't hurt too much. They can last from a few seconds to a minute,” says munchkin.
“Mine were like very bad period pains and at their worse I found when they peaked. The gas and air would take the edge of them, and then they would subside and you could have a breather.
"The ones to start with weren't overwhelming, but more like sharp period pains. Its different for everyone though, my friend couldn't even feel hers!” says Jo 1311.
“My early contractions felt like bad period pains or trapped wind, that would last about 20 seconds and then go. I didn't realise that I was having contractions until they were 7mins apart," says JennieP2.
What did your contractions feel like?
Share your experiences with other mums in our forum.