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Is It Labor Or Not: What Do Contractions Feel Like?

Last updated on December 10th, 2022 at 09:01 pm

What do contractions feel like? Are you really about to pop? Learn more about the signs of real labor and how to deal with it here!

RELATED: The Stages Of Labor And Childbirth

In this article:

  1. Preterm Contractions
  2. Braxton Hicks Contractions
  3. Early Labor Contractions
  4. Active Labor Contractions
  5. Transition Contractions
  6. Back Contractions

What Do Contractions Feel Like? Here’s What You Need to Know

Contractions Are Not Always a Sign of Labor

One of the most common questions people who have never been in labor ask is “what do contractions feel like?” The answer is more complicated than you might think.

There are several types of contractions. Each type of contraction can feel different. Before that, what are contractions exactly?

Contractions are usually a sign that labor is starting but not always. Contractions help move things along when you are in labor. You can experience early contractions before you go into labor, though.

Are the contractions you’re feeling signs of labor for the actual birth of your baby? It’s sometimes stressful to determine whether the pain you feel is real contractions that will lead to labor or not.

Find out what types of contractions pregnant women may feel before childbirth here.

Types of Contractions

There are two main types of contractions: preterm contractions and labor contractions.

Preterm contractions usually do not mean you are going into labor. Any woman experiencing regular contractions should contact her ob/gyn.

Labor contractions do signal labor. There are several types of labor contractions and each feels slightly different.

1. Preterm Contractions

Young pregnant woman, having painful contraction, starting labor, sitting on the couch | Is it Labor Or Not: What Do Contractions Feel Like?
A pregnant woman experiences a painful contraction on the couch.

As the name suggests, expect preterm contractions in the last trimester before pregnant women are due to give birth. These occur before your 37th week of pregnancy. Your body goes through many changes throughout pregnancy.

Sometimes, you might feel contractions as early as the first trimester. This is when your body adjusts to these changes.

The connective ligament tissue that supports your uterus stretches. This stretching may cause contractions. Dehydration, gas pains, and constipation can also cause these early contractions.

What do preterm contractions feel like? How much pain will you be in?

You might feel these early contractions as abdominal cramping or tension. The contractions may range from mildly uncomfortable to painful. Preterm contractions may feel as intense as labor contractions.

2. Braxton Hicks Contractions

Braxton Hicks Contractions Definition: These are intermittent uterine contractions that feel like mild menstrual cramps. These contractions do not open the cervix.

Braxton Hicks contractions can happen before you are actually in labor. Many medical professionals say that Braxton Hicks are “practice contractions” for the uterus.

Your uterus has several layers. The middle layer is mostly muscle. The main function of this layer is to induce contractions.

Uterine muscles get stronger with exercise, and the muscular layer of the uterus is no exception. In the weeks before you go into labor, the muscular layer of the uterus can occasionally exercise to get stronger.

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like? Braxton Hicks contractions are usually irregular and appear occasionally. They are unpredictable and non-rhythmic.

The American Pregnancy Association says the discomfort of Braxton Hicks does not increase or come more frequently. Braxton Hicks contractions typically taper off and then completely disappear.

Women often describe Braxton Hicks as a squeezing or tightening of the stomach. Cramps that feel like menstrual period cramps also occur.

Some women experience Braxton Hicks contractions and do not even realize it. These “practice contractions” usually last 30 to 60 seconds, but some can last as long as two minutes.

3. Early Labor Contractions

Woman getting a contraction and backache at the bed | Is it Labor Or Not: What Do Contractions Feel Like?
A pregnant woman holds her back and stomach as she experiences a contraction in bed.

You may experience early labor contractions during the initial stages of labor. Early labor contractions occur at regular intervals.

You’ll feel regular contractions to prepare your cervix for childbirth. Stronger contractions start once the baby is ready for the upcoming birth.

4. Active Labor Contractions

Active labor contractions happen when the baby moves into position for vaginal delivery.

What do active labor contractions feel like? Active labor contractions come at regular intervals.

You might feel active labor contractions about five to seven minutes apart. If you time contractions, you’ll be able to know if you’re entering active labor already.

RELATED: What Is Labor Induction And How Does It Work

5. Transition Contractions

Television shows usually portray transition contractions. These contractions push the baby out of the vagina.

What do transition contractions feel like? Many women view transition contractions as the hardest part of labor. Transition contractions happen more frequently than active labor contractions.

6. Back Contractions

Pregnant woman with a back pain and lower back | Is it Labor Or Not: What Do Contractions Feel Like?
A pregnant woman holds her back and leans over as she experiences a contraction.

The position of the baby can sometimes cause a woman to feel contractions in her back. Babies who come out with their heads facing up place more pressure on the nerves in their mothers’ backs.

Intense uterine contractions can also cause back contractions. Back contractions only occur during labor and not all women in labor experience back contractions.

What do back contractions feel like? You feel these contractions in your back rather than in your lower abdomen. Back contractions occur at regular intervals. The pain may or may not subside as labor progresses.

True labor contractions can cause back pain. This back pain can feel like a dull ache or cramping that radiates toward your uterus.

It can also cause severe discomfort in the lower back. Intense pain that stays mostly in your back is back labor.

If you do feel back contractions, especially in the earlier weeks of your pregnancy, go to the hospital or contact your doctor immediately.

Learn the signs between true contraction and labor. Watch this video about early labor signs from Howdini:

YouTube video

Any woman who experiences contractions that come at regular intervals should contact her doctor, as these may be a sign of labor. Knowing the different types may help you determine which ones to ride out and which ones to go to the hospital for.

For more information on contractions and how to know whether it is labor or not, consult with a doctor.

How do you feel about going into labor? Share with us your thoughts, worries, or fears in the comments section below!

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 16, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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