They are one of the biggest unknowns of a first pregnancy. What does a contraction feel like? Our family and friends can horrify us, yet among them are some who say contractions aren’t such a big deal. Interpretations range across the board, but when it comes to vaginal birth, one thing is for sure: it’s going to happen.
A contraction is a tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscle during labor. This causes the cervix to dilate and efface, progressing to ten centimeters, when the baby will eventually be able to come into the birth canal and be born.
Contractions can be felt in the abdomen, low back, buttocks and legs. Some people describe them as feeling like a menstrual cramp, whereas others feel more back pain. Some contractions, known as Braxton hicks, are not considered a part of labor, but are rather practice contractions and are usually less intense. Contractions in active labor typically become longer, stronger and closer together. However, each birthing person will have their own pattern and intensity.
This makes it increasingly hard to truly know what we will face before the big day. However, many childbirth education classes can teach coping mechanisms to assist in managing discomfort. These techniques can be practiced and learned so they are second nature by the time labor starts. Some people may feel that they don’t need many techniques in their toolbox, and others draw upon them before labor even starts. Clients planning to request medication for pain relief often don’t want to put much emphasis into learning these techniques, however it is always good to have handy, as hospital floors may become busy, labor may be too quick or medication may not work as we hoped it would.
Often times, the uncertainty of how contractions will feel can become one of our biggest fears. However, nature is funny, as often times once birth is over we will remember how we felt during the contractions, but cannot describe the sensation itself.
Have you already had contractions? Can you describe what they felt like?