How do contractions feel when they first start?
There are so many questions and thoughts that start running through your brain as soon as you see that second pink line appear on the pregnancy test.
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Some that happen right away might be things like:
But some of the questions surrounding labor and birth might not pop up till you’re further along in your pregnancy. Then you might start asking yourself things like:
Where do you feel contractions?
And all sorts of other fun but sort of scary questions! But the main one on your mind right now is where do you feel contractions during labor? Let’s get into it:
Where on Bump do you feel contractions?
If you’re having a normal labor, contractions will be felt around your tummy and slightly into your back.
A contraction will start in the lower back and wrap around to the front and around your womb. To me, it felt like something starting to squeeze, slowly and gently at first, and then building up pressure and strength.
With my third baby, the first contractions were sneaky- I only noticed I was in the middle of one when when I was doubled over the mop while mopping the floor!
They quickly progressed from there- I had my baby in less than 4 hours from the first contraction.
How do contractions feel when they first start?
When contractions first begin, they will most likely be mild and feel almost like period cramps. At this point they will likely be coming every 15-20 minutes.
They will slowly progress in length and intensity as you approach the pushing phase of labor until they are less than 5 minutes apart and last 60 seconds each.
|Real Contractions||Braxton Hicks|
|Come at regular intervals||Come and go, no regular pattern|
|Last 30-70 seconds||Last less than 20 seconds to 120 seconds|
|Tightening, cramping pressure starting in the back and moving to the front, increasing in pain and pressure||Feel like tightening, squeezing but without pain|
|Start in the back and move to the front||Usually only felt in the front|
Are contractions felt high or low?
Contractions usually start low, in the lower back and wrap around to the front. My experience was noticing them higher up when they reached the front because my whole belly would be engulfed in the contraction- including my higher belly.
Is it a contraction or baby moving?
How do you know if your having contractions or baby is moving? If your whole belly is HARD to the touch and you can feel the tightening pressure from your back and wrapping around your whole belly, it’s a contraction.
If your belly is hard in one place but soft in others, baby is moving or pushing their feet or head against the womb.
Can baby kicks feel like contractions?
A baby kick most likely won’t feel like a full fledged contraction but they may start a bout of Braxton Hicks.
If you’re in doubt about contractions, always call your care provider.
The 5-1-1 rule is also very helpful:
If you are having contractions that are 5 minutes apart, are 1 minute in length and have been happening for 1 hour– it’s time to head to the hospital.
Can you be in labor and not know it?
Although highly unlikely, it IS possible- check out this woman’s birth story!
Your body will be telling you in other ways that labor is approaching, like:
- Your mucus plug coming out
- A bloody show
- Sudden exhaustion
- A slight weightloss
- Back pain
- Water breaking
Here are the signs that labor is only 24-48 hours away.
Real Moms Explain What Labor Contractions Feel Like:
I had a natural unmedicated VBAC with my second child. I would describe the contractions as extreme pressure. I don’t really remember there being pain, just intense pressure with each contraction, like your body is trying to do something you can’t control.
Initially, contractions feel like intense menstrual cramps. As labor progresses, the best way I can describe the pain is like a charley horse through your abdomen and wrapping around to your back. Eventually the pain turns into a very intense pressure that actually feels better with pushing!
“I’ve had two unmedicated births now, and both times, the contractions were like waves of intense tightness. Even without a contraction timer, I could tell when a contraction was about to start because of how my whole stomach would start to squeeze and tighten! It was certainly uncomfortable, but never something that I couldn’t make it through!”
“It felt like involuntarily vomiting in the opposite direction.”
“Labor contractions feel like waves of extreme tension. It’s beyond uncomfortable, but still bearable. With the aches and pains of pregnancy, it almost feels like your body and mind are prepared for it.”
“I’ve had a natural birth without medications and never felt the “typical” contractions that everyone is always talking about that feel like menstrual cramps. I only had contractions in my lower back that felt like waves of back pain just coming and going.”
“I had an induced labor that escaladed quickly once my water was broken. The pain was something way too much to handle and at every contraction I was feeling like my breath was taken away. It felt like a huge pressure on my abdomen, just like someone really heavy is standing on you.”
“I had back labor with my first child. Instead of tightness in my abdomen, my contractions were really intense low backpain.”
“I had “false labor” and Braxton Hicks for a month with both. When the real thing happened it felt like really bad cramps and I just knew this was it. And it hurt a lot!”
“I felt a lot of pressure and discomfort in my back and lower abdomen. Sometimes with contractions, I felt moderate pain and other times intense pain. It hurts, but it’s so worth it!”
“I was induced after my daughter was 8 days overdue. I labored without an epidural up to 7 cm. The pain was strong and so extremely intense that I finally understood the term “I wanted to crawl out of my skin.”
“For me, the labor contractions were more like severe period cramps at regular intervals. The pattern was so consistent. A wave would last for exactly 1 minute and vanished for exactly 8 minutes. With time, the frequency of the waves and severity of cramps increased, the rest time of 8 minutes gradually reduced to 1 minute.”
“My contractions started without pain. It was a tightening feeling and if I put my hand on my stomach it felt rock hard. I’d been having those “Braxton Hicks” for a while, but right before labor they started coming quicker. Then the pain started like mild menstrual cramps that came and went at regular intervals. As time went on they got more painful, as well as closer together. It was still the same type of pain though. Towards the end, in the one pregnancy where I didn’t have anesthesia, the pain moved to my back and intensified towards the end, but I can’t really compare it to anything, other than to say it was both similar and different to earlier labor pains.”
“I was in labor with my first for 45 hours! At first the contractions felt like a slowly building wave, but as back labor became worse, so did the feeling of bearing down. With my second, my contractions were less about pain and more the feeling of having no control: my body just knew what to do!”
“I have two kids and for both of them the beginning stage of labor felt like really bad period cramps. As the contractions got stronger the pain began to take over my entire abdomen and lower back to the point where I couldn’t stand up anymore. The pain was sharp and intense, but then would subside between contrations. With my oldest I was in labor for 28 hours and then 12 hours with my younger baby.”
Does your tummy go tight with contractions?
Yes, it absolutely does! Real contractions start in your lower back and wrap around the front to tighten your entire belly and womb.
Does childbirth feel like period cramps?
From my experience, yes. But, only at the beginning. When the contractions start coming in fast and furious waves, you’ll be wishing for period cramps. They feel like period cramps that took steroids and entered a strongman competition.
How do you feel 24 hours before labor?
The 24 hours before labor can be a weird time. Your body and emotions might be telling you that labor is coming that day or they might not give you any hints at all.
With my first baby, I had a very sudden and strong urge to pack my hospital bag. My water broke the next morning.
With my second baby, I had a strong urge to go out and get some junk food. I felt happy and calm. My water broke that night, around 2 am.
With my third baby had NO CLUE that labor was coming! I saw my doctor for a membrane sweep in the morning and she laughed and told me the baby wasn’t coming anytime soon.
I went into labor at 2 pm that day and had my baby around 6pm.
Every woman, every PREGNANCY is wildly different! The only thing not different is the fact that you will, indeed, have your baby at some point. Lol.
How far apart are early contractions?
Early contractions can be irregular but usually they will come every 15-20 minutes and feel mild.
They will slowly progress to 5 minutes apart and last about 60 seconds each. If it’s your first baby, the 4-1-1 rule will suffice.
(contractions are 4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute and have been happening for 1 hour)
If it’s a subsequent baby, go with the 5-1-1. The more babies you’ve had, the faster the birth tends to go.
(contractions are 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute and have been happening for 1 hour)
That’s a general rule though. Always contact your care provider if you’re unsure.
When should I start timing contractions?
You can start timing them as soon as you want! It can be helpful to start timing them to establish a pattern. Braxton Hicks won’t have a pattern but real contractions will.
Don’t obsess over it though- time a few and then wait a while to see if there’s a change in feeling before timing again.
It’s super handy to download a contraction timing app on your phone- you just hit a button when they start and stop and the app will tell you if you should get to the hospital or kick back and relax a while.
Does baby get more active before labor?
For some reason, it’s usually the opposite. Many women report noticing baby slowing down in activity before labor begins.
The speculation is that baby is also preparing for labor and is conserving energy.
How do you know the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions?
Let’s clear the air here-
it can be difficult to distinguish true vs false labor. Even if you’ve had a baby before! I had a false alarm with my second baby because I had been induced with my first and didn’t quite understand the difference.
With the false alarm, the contractions weren’t super painful but they were regular. Like clockwork! And they were getting closer together. So, I went to the hospital!
The nurses were extraordinarily nice about it and reassured me- they always want you to come in rather than wait at home and worry.
From my own personal experience, true contractions HURT. So badly! The pain is manageable in the beginning but gets to a point where it is not so manageable anymore.
Braxton Hicks will not feel like that. They will not be that painful. They really won’t be painful at all!
That is MY experience.
Is it possible to not feel contractions?
There are other moms who have gone into labor with NO PAIN. I think that’s rare and unlikely but it does happen, so be aware of it.
Here is how you can tell true contractions from Braxton Hicks, with or without pain:
Can you sleep through early labor?
It depends on how painful the contractions are. If they are not so bad and you CAN sleep? Do it! Conserve your energy and rest up for the big event.
Even if you are too keyed up to actually sleep, rest. Watch a relaxing movie, drink some warm herbal tea or soak in the tub.
How many cm dilated before they will break your water?
There are a number of factors to be considered before your doctor will break your water:
- Fetal station (how low baby is)
These factors are assigned points in something called Bishop’s score. The score you get will let your healthcare provider know if there will be a favorable outcome to inducing labor via breaking your water.
Can you have contractions for days?
Yes, you can have contractions for days. You may have mix of Braxton Hicks and real contractions during the latent phase of labor (“a period of time, not necessarily continuous, when there are painful contractions and there is some cervical change, including cervical effacement and dilatation up to 4cm”) which lasts until the cervix is dilated to 3-4cm.
After that, active labor is established and lasts until the cervix is fully dilated, to 10cm.
How can I tell if I’m in labor?
You’ll know you’re in labor if:
The contractions you are experiencing are true contractions. You can see the graph earlier on in the post to determine if it’s true or false labor.
True labor contractions slowly get closer together. They last about 1 minute in length. They don’t stop if you change positions or drink a glass of water. They get harder and harder to talk through.
This is honestly the only symptom that will tell you that you’re DEFINITELY in labor. Even having your water break won’t necessarily mean that contractions will start. You may need to be induced.
How can you tell if your baby will be early or late?
There isn’t really a way to tell if your baby will be early or late. There may be hints as to when baby is starting to prepare for labor, such as:
- Baby dropping or lightening
- Loss of mucus plug
- Bloody show
There has been a study on whether or not first born babies are usually late or early.
According to Live Science, “A firstborn baby has a 15 to 16 percent chance of being born late, compared with a 9 or 10 percent chance for other babies. Most babies were born at 39 weeks of pregnancy. However, the study also found that firstborns were also more likely to be born early, at 37 weeks or earlier.”
Why am I having contractions but my water hasn’t broken?
It might surprise you but only 15% of women experience their water breaking prior to contractions starting.
So, having contractions before your water breaking puts you in with the other 85%.
What do contractions feel like at 38 weeks?
It’s definitely possible to go into labor at 38 weeks. If that happens, your contractions will feel like real contractions.
Where do you feel Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton Hicks are generally felt in the front of the belly and only there. They start in the front and won’t be felt in the lower back.
Real contractions start in the lower back and creep around to the front, eventually wrapping the whole belly.
Do contractions feel like gas pains?
Early labor contractions can be described as almost period-like cramps. You might have cramps, a back ache or both!
I’ve definitely noticed that I have poop cramps around my period. I also noticed with each labor that the start of contractions felt similar to this.