What Do Contractions Feel Like? Everything You Need To Know

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If you had not had a baby before and passed through labor, you might be wondering what do contractions feels like.

You must have probably seen it on the TV, on YouTube, or even watched a woman giving birth live, but trust me, labor contractions are better experienced than seen.

Still, as much as possible, I would try to clear up the question what do contractions feel like and discuss the many other things about labor that you need to know in this post.

So if you are with me, let’s get started. By the tail end of pregnancy, many women experience contractions. Some of these contractions may precede labor; others do not.

Suppose you do not know which is which; you may not know when you are in actual labor and it could be risky for you and your baby). So, let’s start by defining labor contractions.


What Is Labor Contraction?

A labor contraction is the periodic tightening and relaxation of a pregnant woman’s uterine muscles.

When the pituitary hormone oxytocin is released, it stimulates further contraction and speeds up labor. The cramping and tightening feeling may usually cause some pain and discomfort to the woman.


Where Do You Feel Contractions?

Women feel labor contractions at the back, lower abdomen, and pelvis. Some women also feel pain in their sides and thighs.

During contractions, women also experience weakness in the legs. Usually, the pressure and contraction cramps start from the lower back and move around the belly.

In contraction, the periodic tightening and relaxation of the uterine muscles cause pressure and a tightening sensation that moves in a wave-like manner.

You will notice that the belly bump can become tight and rigid. One contraction would cause the upper part of the uterus and the cervix to thicken and the lower part of the uterus to stretch and relax.

Periodic tightening and relaxing with some pushing from the woman helps push the baby from the uterus into the birth canal and outside during labor.


How Is Contraction Timed?

Contractions are timed by noting the time you first notice the tightening and sensation at your lower back or abdomen and the time the sensations or cramps end.

Notice that I defined contractions as the intermittent tightening and relaxing sensation experienced by a pregnant woman. It means that contractions start and stop at intervals.

Therefore, the interval between each contraction and the frequency or intensity of each contraction will differ depending on the woman’s stage of labor.

Now, if you are almost due, it is essential to note down the time of each of your contractions.

To know how intense your contraction cramps are, timing down your contractions will help you know your contraction pattern.

This is helpful information for your midwife or obstetrician/gynecologist during delivery.

So when next you feel contractions, especially if you are close to your due date, write down the time it started on paper, say 9:00 pm, and if it is at 9:05 pm, document it.

Use a stopwatch preferably to record the duration of the contraction and note; if it is thirty seconds, one minute, or more.

The interval between each contraction will help you catch your breath and gain some energy in preparation for the next wave of contraction.

It is also a necessary rest period for your baby and the uterus during active labor. For more delivery information, learn about the four stages of labor here.


What Do Early Contractions Feel Like?

What does contraction feel like when it begins earlier than scheduled? Early contraction can start like the regular abdominal discomfort we feel during indigestion or diarrhea.

However, it also begins with mild to moderate menstrual cramps accompanied by pressure in the lower abdomen, pressure in the lower back, and weakness of the legs.

Usually, early contractions are pretty painless, but you will feel some pressure or a dull ache in the lower back and abdomen and weakness in the leg.

It lasts for a few seconds to a few minutes, but as time progresses, the contraction can intensify, moving from the latent phase of labor to the active phase of labor.


Do Early Contractions Feel Like You Need To Poop?

You may wonder if you should feel like pooping during Early Contractions. How women feel during contractions differs.

Some women may feel like pooping, and others do not. Since diarrhea is a sign of contractions, you may have it during labor. We have described above typically what most women will experience during contraction.

In truth, every woman’s labor and contraction are unique and different, so do not be surprised that you may feel more backache than menstrual-like cramps during your labor contractions as compared to what was described here.

During my labor contractions, I felt abdominal cramps and weakness in my legs at the start of my labor contractions, but as the contractions intensified, the backache intensified much more than the cramps.

Indeed contraction and labor are tough and take a toll on the woman, so you have to be prepared for it. Granted, one will experience much discomfort but know that each contraction brings you closer to birth.

Note that menstrual-like cramps, backache, intermittent cramps, aches, and pelvic pressure are the normal signs of labor contractions.

Braxton Hicks contractions are also experienced during pregnancy, but it is slightly different from labor contraction. So let’s see what it is all about.


What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

Braxton Hicks contractions also called false contractions or practice contractions, are the occasional tightening and relaxation of the belly bump before birth.

It can start from the six months to the last weeks of pregnancy, and it helps prepare the pregnant mother’s body for the real deal, which is labor contractions.

It is usually painless and only experienced as an occasional tightening in the abdomen. Braxton Hicks contractions are also intermittent, like labor contractions, but the tightening does not intensify with time as with labor contractions.

Also, Braxton Hicks contractions are usually not accompanied by menstrual-like cramps, leg weakness, or intense pelvic pressure like in labor contractions.

And with a change in position or rubbing of the belly bump, the contracted bump relaxes. It may start around the twentieth of pregnancy till around the thirty-second week.

Braxton Hick’s contractions are not strong enough to push the baby out as labor contractions. It may last for a few seconds to about a minute or two maximum.

You may ask, where do you feel Braxton Hicks contractions? Braxton Hicks contractions are felt in the abdomen.

Tightening of the belly bump occurs as you can observe the contoured shape in the abdomen when this occurs. The tightening reduces with time, unlike labor contractions that intensify with time.


What Is Strange During Braxton Hicks Contraction?

Note that Braxton Hick’s contraction is not accompanied by loss of the mucus plug, water-breaking, or labor signs.

When to be concerned about Braxton Hicks contraction is when you experience any of these symptoms mentioned above. They may indicate premature labor if you are not close to your due date.

Braxton Hicks contractions starts differently from woman to woman; some experience it in the second trimester, others in the third, and some women do not experience it at all.

If you experience Braxton Hicks, do not panic; you are okay as long as you do not feel intense pain, blood loss, or colored discharge.

You can try walking around, lying down, drinking some water, and rubbing your belly bump till the tightening subsides. This always helped me when I was pregnant.

If the tightening comes with pains or intense pressure, please call your doctor or midwife, as this is not a good sign.


8 Signs Showing What Contraction Feels Like

what do contractions feel like

You can only know when you have contractions by knowing what contractions feel like. So what does a contraction feel like?

Below are nine signs that will help you know you are having contractions.


1.  A Periodic Wave-Like Tightening

If you are wondering what do contractions feel like, this is one sign you should watch out for. Contractions usually cause the upper part of the uterus to tighten and the lower part to stretch and relax.

Braxton Hicks’s contractions are false contractions and the periodic tightening and relaxation of the abdomen help prepare the uterus and cervix for labor.

Labor contractions help push the baby from the uterus into the birth canal and outside during active labor.

““`Hence, women experiencing contraction will feel wave-like tightening sensations in their abdomen, usually starting from the lower back or abdomen upward.

The periodic stretching and relaxation of the uterus indicates that each contraction usually has time intervals between them, and labor contractions generally intensify with time, bringing the woman closer to delivery


2.  Menstrual-Like Cramps

Menstrual-like cramp is also another sign accompanied by contractions, so for those asking, what do contractions feel like? Expect menstrual-like cramps as one of the signs of contractions.

Like the cramps, you feel during your period or during the first trimester when you experience morning sickness symptoms, menstrual-like cramps are also experienced during contractions in the last days of pregnancy.

As the uterus expands when the baby gets bigger, it causes an increasing progesterone level and can cause cramps. Cramps may result from tightening the uterus and cervix during contractions.

The cramps experienced during contractions may be mild to moderate to severe, depending on the woman.

They could be accompanied by symptoms like nausea, malaise, increase in temperature, etc. If cramps become severe and you experience vaginal bleeding or discomfort, please rush to the hospital.


3.  Abdominal Pains/Ache

Cramps and contractions can also cause abdominal pains/aches in women. The ache/pressure is usually felt at the lower abdomen, closer to the pelvis, and not at the belly bump.

Like many signs of labor contraction, the abdominal pains cause general discomfort and unrest, if you are asking what do contractions feel like.

In Braxton Hicks contractions, the abdomen (belly bump) tightens and contours visibly, but it does not cause pain.

But women may also experience slightly sharp or shooting pain in the lower abdomen during labor contractions.

The pain could be experienced on either side of the stomach and may sometimes be felt in the groin. The pain is also felt when walking or bending.

Pain experienced during labor contractions could be due to the stretching ligaments that support the expanding uterus as the baby gets bigger.

Of course, it can be very discomforting when experiencing the pain and pressures of contractions but try to ease the discomfort by moving around or resting if you have been working long and changing positions. Drinking water can also help and frequent rest.


4.  Back And Waist Ache

Back and waist ache is another common sign experienced during contraction. So, if you are curious to know what do contraction feels like, expect a backache, especially in the lower back, and a waist ache.

Backache/waist ache or pain in pregnancy can occur as the baby bump grows bigger. The weight puts strain on the body’s ligaments.

They stretch and become softer while preparing the body for labor. The stretching of ligaments can put added pressure on the lower back and pelvis joints.

You can ease aches by doing exercises like prenatal yoga or kneeling on all fours to strengthen the abdominal muscles.

Avoid lifting heavy objects, resting, or lying on mattresses that support the body’s weight, and you can also sleep with a pregnant body pillow.

Also, wear shoes that support and evenly distribute your weight when the backache becomes very intense, especially if accompanied by water breakage or loss of the mucus plug. It may be a sign that labor is here.


5.  Weakness Of The Legs

The additional weight of the fetus and pressure of the uterus in the pelvis and back can cause leg weakness, and during contractions, it intensifies.

The weakness of the legs can be felt in the butt, thighs, knees, feet, and lower extremities. Each contraction may heighten the weakness and cause discomfort.

Leg weakness may also be accompanied by leg cramps in some women and may cause painful/involuntary muscle contractions in the thighs, calves, knee, etc.

To ease leg weakness and contractions, try flexing and massaging the legs to relieve the stress and cramps in the legs.

Also, minimize excessive work and wear appropriate shoes to carry your weight during pregnancy.


6.  Pains On The Sides And Thighs

This pain is also accompanied by contractions and may cause discomfort. Pains on the sides of the abdomen is a typical symptom and answer to what do contractions feel like.

It could result in round ligament pain due to the weight of the uterus on the ligament and stretching.

Pains on the thighs could also result from stretching of ligaments due to enlarged ligaments pressing the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica. This can cause pressure and pain in the thighs, butt, knees, etc.


7.  Discomfort

Contractions are accompanied by general discomfort. No doubt, the periodic tightening of the uterus would cause pressure and cramps in the lower abdomen.

Also, added symptoms like backache, waist ache, and cramps cause general discomfort and unrest.

However, with each interval between contractions, women usually feel less discomfort; they should use this time to recuperate their energy for another wave of contraction, especially before labor so that they don’t tire out fast before labor.


8.  Abdominal Upset

Stress, hormonal changes, and rhythmic contractions can cause abdominal disturbance in some women.

Some women may even have pre-labor diarrhea due to changing hormonal flux, which causes the muscles of the uterus, cervix, and rectum to loosen up, and they poop more frequently.

If you are experiencing this, take a lot of fluid, rest, and try to avoid any food that would intensify the stomach upset.



If you have asked, what do contractions feel like? By reading this post, I hope you have gotten a picture of what it is and what to expect.

This should prepare you for the big day ahead and help you cope during labor. Wishing you big congratulations in advance.

Save this for later, mama!

what do contractions feel like


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Author: Thriving Mum

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