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What are Labor Contractions?
Labor contractions are the body’s way of getting you ready for labor and typically occur during the final stage of the third trimester during pregnancy. Women often describe the onset of contractions as severe menstrual cramps or gas pains. They move in a wave-like motion starting from the top of the uterus down to the bottom of your abdomen.
Labor contractions gradually increase in intensity and lengthen, with the peaks coming quicker and quicker as the birth looms. Each woman’s experience with contractions is different. Some may experience pain in the back and lower abdomen, while others may also feel pain in the upper thighs, or their water may break.
Types of Labor Contractions
You may experience two types of labor contractions – Braxton Hicks, and true labor contractions. During the second trimester but more often in the third trimester, false labor pains or Braxton Hicks may occur. Braxton Hicks contractions are described as a mild, irregular tightening of the abdomen. These contractions are uncomfortable but not painful – they do not occur close together, increase in intensity or last very long. In essence, this is simply a "practice session" before true labor begins. In some pregnant women false labor contractions may lead up to true labor but does not actually dilate the cervix. Labor contractions are often irregular and usually subside when you stop or change positions.
When true labor starts, contractions are regular, lasting approximately 30 to 70 seconds and get closer together as time moves on. They continue irrespective if you are standing, sitting or lying down. Pain is felt in the lower back and abdomen, and may also develop in upper thighs. They intensify in frequency and strength and may be accompanied by diarrhea, cramps or an upset stomach. A blood-streaked discharge may occur together with your water breaking (membranes rupture).
When to Call Your Doctor
When your contractions begin, you should keep note of how long each contraction and how often they are occurring – have a watch, pen and paper on hand! If labor contractions are coming quite regularly and are about five to seven minutes apart, you should contact your obstetrician. Call your obstetrician as well if your water breaks, if your water breaks and labor has not begun, a bloody, brownish mucus discharge appears or the contractions are very intense but you are nowhere near your due date.
More Information on Labor Contractions
Tips to cope with Labor Contractions
There are several things that you can do to promote contractions and these include:
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, imagery, or massage throughout your pregnancy so that you will be able to cope with contractions
- Attend childbirth classes such as Lamaze or Bradley with your partner to learn techniques that will help you cope with labor pains
- Enlist the help of your partner, a labor coach, birth assistant or doula to support you and offer encouragement during the delivery stages
- Try to relax during contractions, and if you can take a nap
- Distract yourself from the pain and discomfort of contractions by watching a movie, listen to music, chat to your partner or relax in a warm bath
- Avoid looking at your stopwatch all the time – it will only stress you out!
- Walk during each contraction or use a birth or physiotherapy ball to help you move around
- Drink plenty of fluids so that you are fully hydrated
- Urinate as often as possible because a full bladder can make it difficult for your uterus to contract
- If you are in the mood to be touched, let your partner massage you gently but firmly
- Apply a warm or cold compresses onto your back or forehead to relieve pain and discomfort
- Surround yourself with positive people during your pregnancy who will offer support and encouragement, and avoid listening to negative birth stories