What Do Contractions Feel Like?

Pregnant woman breathing through a contraction

As your due date approaches, you may wonder more and more often 'what do contractions feel like?' as you get ready for the magical day when you go into labor. While every woman experiences labor contractions differently, there are a few different types of contraction pain that most women's experiences fall into.

What Do Contractions Feel Like?

The most common answer to this question is either 'extremely painful' or 'not so bad'. This discrepancy is because every woman's contractions are different. In addition, every woman experiences this pain at a different level. The good news about anticipating labor pains for nine months (or much longer) is that, for many women, the labor pains are not as bad as they had imagined them. Traditionally considered the worst pain a woman can experience, pregnant women worry about and often fear labor contractions. In some cases, the deeper the fear, the milder the contractions are eventually experienced.

Regardless of the intensity of labor contractions, there are a few different types of feelings that labor contractions bring on. For some women, labor contractions produce pain in the region of the uterus, whereas other women experience the most pain in their back (especially the lower back). Some women report more pressure than pain, and other women don't really localize the pain, associating labor contractions more with a whole-body type of shock. This last type is typified by shortness of breath and sweating.

Labor Contractions as Pain

Women who primarily feel pain while experiencing labor contractions may feel different types of pain in the uterine and the lower back regions. Some women experience the pain moving through different areas as the contraction goes on; for example, perhaps the pain starts in the uterus and radiates to the lower back, or vice versa. For other women, intense pain is experienced in either one area or the other. Generally speaking, women report the pain becoming more and more intense as active labor progresses. Simultaneously, labor contractions become closer and closer together, giving the woman less time to recover between contractions. This combination is what can make the pain of labor contractions reach levels of extreme discomfort.

Several pain medications exist that can be used with permission of your supervising doctor. Though plenty of regular medications exist, there is a current trend to attempt childbirth without pain medications. In making this decision, remember that every woman is different. Talk with your doctor about the possibility of trying natural childbirth, but make sure your doctor knows which type of pain medication you would like to have if you decide during labor to use pain relievers.

Labor Contractions as Pressure

A few different types of pressure are sometimes given as an answer to the question 'what do contractions feel like?'. Some women feel the actual contraction as a type of pressure that acts from the outside in as the uterus tightens. It's also true that contractions during different stages of childbirth have different feelings; as the baby's head presses down, most women will experience strong pressure in the rectal area, as though they need to use the bathroom. This pressure is generally a clear sign that the baby is on the way. While this pressure is technically not related to the labor contractions, but to the baby's positioning, it occurs during a stage of labor when contractions can be so close together that the rectal pressure is experienced as part of a contraction.

Whole-Body Contractions

Some women do not localize labor contractions to either the uterus or lower back, or both. In these cases, a contraction is simply a moment of shock, experienced as paralysis in which the breath shortens, the body doesn't want to move, and doing anything at all sounds completely impossible. The key to dealing with this type of contraction experience is to fight the shortness of breath--breathe deeper and move your body into whatever position your body tells you to. For some women, on hands and knees feels good, while for other women squatting down is the best option. Breathe deeply and follow your instincts.

Dealing with Labor Contractions

Labor contractions are painful and difficult to get through. The good news though is that every woman gets through them, and that women talk much more about their babies than the contractions that brought their babies out to meet them. While contractions are certainly painful, the pain is temporary. For women whose labor lasts a long time, or for whom the contractions are extremely painful, many pain medications are readily available to women delivering in hospitals. To deal with the pain of labor naturally, focus on your breathing and follow your body's instincts.

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What Do Contractions Feel Like?