Pregnancy pain is something which intimidates a lot of expecting moms, and the first bout of contractions can make anyone feel scared and unprepared, even after all the months of prepping yourself for what is to come. Contractions are described as cramping or squeezing sensation that makes its presence felt in a wave-like pattern. The entire childbirth process is performed through a series of contractions. In the childbirth process, the work of labor is done through a sequence of contractions. These contractions induce the upper part of the uterus to compress and thicken while the cervix and lower portion of the uterus extent and relax, helping the baby move from inside the uterus and into the birth canal for delivery. Contraction is a necessary process of flexing of muscles which helps the baby make his way from the uterus to the world which awaits his arrival.

Contractions are nature's way of letting you know that the baby is coming and helping you push the baby out into the world finally after waiting for 9 months.  "The uterus surrounds the baby, and when the uterine muscle contract, that helps labor progress," says Bart Putterman, M.D., an ob-gyn at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston.  Contractions of uterine muscles help to put the baby in a position to come out soon.

What does it feel like?

If you are pregnant with your first baby and have no idea what it feels like, many describe early labor as being similar to menstrual cramps or gas pains. As the contractions come in a wave pattern, each contraction will steadily gain in intensity until the contraction summits,  subside and reoccurs. The time between the contractions will become shorter and the nature of the contractions more intense. It is ideal that there is some regularity or pattern in the timing of the contractions. Contractions can feel distinct for every woman; however, each contraction serves the same purpose, pushing the baby out of your uterus and down into the birth canal.

Is it the Real Deal?

There are three types of contractions which an expecting mother can feel. In can be confusing, especially for first-time moms, to know which one is the real deal. Let us explore how each one of those contractions feels.

Braxton-Hicks: This kind of contractions begin around the middle of one’s pregnancy and is meant to prepare the body for labor. These contractions appear weeks before your due date and are the body’s way of preparing for the actual contractions. You may feel tightening of your uterus muscles at irregular intervals or a squeezing sensation in your lower abdomen and groin. Braxton-Hicks softens and thins the cervix and can come in the form of barely any sense of contractions or they can also be strong or painful. These contractions come randomly and are not consistent and are more common on the days when the expecting mother feels physically exhausted. These are often called as false contractions.

Labor contractions: Real contractions are periodically recurring and intensifies with time, regardless of your activity or position. They might also cause a bloody show or pain in the lower back or abdomen. These mostly happen 37-42 weeks of pregnancy and signifies the beginning of childbirth. These last between 30-70 seconds, and get more impactful and closer together over time. During this time, there might be a general feeling that the baby has settled lower in your belly, your water might break, or there might be vaginal discharge.

Preterm labor: Preterm contractions are regular contractions which takes place before 37 weeks of pregnancy and might be a sign of preterm labor. Preterm babies arrive earlier than expected and are at greater risk of hospitalization, health problems, and death. They need special care to help them develop properly externally, as they might not be fully developed when they are delivered.

Tip and tricks for contractions

Contractions are patterned but irregular, with a rest period in between you and baby to relax for a bit and get prepared for the next one. Timing your contractions smartly can prevent you from waiting forever for in the hospital until the time labor starts. Let us go through some tips and tricks which will help one tackle the contractions effectively

  • Contractions are calculated from the starting of one contraction to the starting of the next. Writing down on a paper the time each contraction starts and its duration, right to the last second, is crucial. Most caregivers use a standard benchmark for when the contractions are coming every 3 to 5 minutes and last for around a minute each time to call them in the birthing place

  • There are a number of things you can give you a bit of comfort to deal with the pain. You can try listening to music, meditating, changing positions or walking, or hypnosis to find comfort during the contractions. You can also take a bath or try rocking in a chair.

  • Try to distract yourself from the pain while you wait for the contraction to get closer to watching a favorite tv show, playing a game on your phone, or counting.

  • Make sure you think of each contraction as something positive and is bringing you closer to your body.

  • Install a contraction master which picks up on contraction timings without you having to rely on a stopwatch. It will calculate the contractions for you and alert you when it is time to go to the hospital.

Call the doctor if:

  • Your contractions seem a bit off, or you are facing problems maintaining a gap between contractions.

  • Your water breaking way before labor begins

  • Contractions that become increasingly powerful weeks before your due date

  • Your umbilical cord has slipped into the vaginal canal or cervix

  • The water breaks with a greenish-brown tint

  • You encounter vaginal bleeding.

  • Your contractions are between 5 and 10 minutes apart.

  • You can no longer walk or talk due to the pain of contractions.

Contractions are intensely painful and only grows more intense with time. They mimic menstruation pain but only ten times more intense. Your body is finally done creating a life within you, and every bit of you is trying to get the baby out of your body. It a miraculous process and all the months of waiting to meet your new baby is just a few hours. This is the last stretch of bravado that a mother is required to exhibit before it is all worth it. They say there is no pain like childbirth. However, there is also no gift like motherhood!

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