What Do Contractions Feel Like?

When I was pregnant I kept Googling, "what do contractions actually feel like?" "What do early contractions feel like?" and "What does active labour feel like?" I kept Googling and I kept looking things up and I couldn't find a really good description as to what contractions felt like, and now after having gone through it twice, I think the reason is because there is nothing like it to describe it. I literally cannot think of anything else that is like contractions.

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When you think you're close to delivery you might experience cramping or what's actually called "Braxton Hicks contractions." From what I can gather, these aren't real contractions. It actually feels like a muscle cramp in your abdomen area and it's recognizable because it feels just like a muscle cramp, like you would have in your calf or in your side, and it goes away. This muscle cramp does not feel anything like your period. It's totally different.


Early contractions feel like you're about to get your period - either day the of or the day before your period feeling. Sitting on the toilet might feel like it helps relieve pressure. For me, a day before or the day that I'm going to get my period, I feel kind of bloaty, everything feels kind of tense, and I have tightness in my legs and in my abdomen area. When the contractions start to get stronger, they definitely feel like period cramps. The only thing, they're just centered in your lower area like a normal period because your uterus now extends all the way up to your chest. The contractions can feel like tightening or pressure in your whole core area.

Now active labour contractions - I can't really describe really well. I don't want to scare you, but I'm going to say that my body was twisting. I couldn't talk through my contractions, nor could I even yell or scream. While I was in labour there were plenty of other women who were screaming and yelling, but for me I could only hold my breath. That's how much it hurt. I knew I was supposed to try to breathe through it but I kept holding my breath and I would curl up in a ball and I would twist and turn because there was no way to relieve the pressure.

It was incredibly obvious when I was in active labour because I didn't even need to time the contractions. I could feel them coming up. The only way I can describe it is, it's like when you have hiccups - you can feel when the next one is coming. For active labour contractions - I could tell one was coming very soon.

The contractions were like a squeezing or a contracting of all the muscles in your body for 30 seconds to a minute, and then you get a minute rest. During that minute of rest, everything was fine. I couldn't feel any pain, and I could talk and breathe fine.

The main reason I found it hard to deal with the pain is there's nothing that you can do to deal with it. You can't press somewhere and you can't really do much to solve it. If you had a muscle cramp in your leg, you would try to grab it or stretch it. With contractions, you really can't do that. You really just have to try to relax through it, and go through it knowing that your body is doing what it's supposed to do.


The good news about contractions is that when it comes to pushing time, your contractions really help. When you're near the point of delivery, when a contraction happens, that's when you would be asked to push.

Here's some tips to help you through your contractions. Full disclosure, for both of my deliveries I took the epidural. In my first delivery I actually tried to rough it out and I was convinced - I can keep going, I can keep going, I can keep going. All of a sudden, I couldn't do it and the only thing I could manage to say was, "I can't do this, give me the epidural." And then for my second delivery I knew that I would want the epidural. But that's different for everyone, and maybe you're tougher than I am.

The first tip is: put a pillow between your legs to relieve the pressure. In both of my pregnancies, the nurses gave me this gigantic peanut pillow. It's like this big. And it really helped. Consider putting, 1, 2, 3, 4 pillows between your legs.

Tip number two: eat while you feel okay. At some point the contractions are so bad that you can't eat or talk through them. I made the mistake in my first delivery of waiting to a certain point to eat, and I was trying to eat in between contractions. It wasn't such a fun experience.

And the third tip: when you're close to delivery, try not to overthink and overanalyze things. Your body knows what it's doing and it will happen naturally. In those last few weeks, everything feels like you're in labour. Ever little cramp or pressure or weight feels like you're in labour, but you're really not and it can drive you mad and can be really exhausting to stress about that. I can't put it into better words other than to say, when you're in active labour, you'll know.

If you have to guess - is this labour, is this labour, how about this, is this labour? It's probably not labour.

Whether things progress really quickly or take a longer time, when you get to the point of active contractions, trust me, you'll know. In those final weeks, each day can feel like a lifetime, and yet at the same time, they just zoom by, and then you have a different issue to deal with and it's tired and stressed - so relax while you can.

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