How are the contractions? (2023)

Workcontractionsit may feel like discomfort or a dull ache in the lower back, a feeling of tightness in the abdomen and pelvic pressure.

Not all people experience contractions in the same way. Some people compare contractions to severe menstrual cramps or the pressure of a bowel movement. The uncomfortable sensations can also be felt in the groin, thigh and side pains.

True labor contractions start out mild, but will get longer, stronger, and closer together as labor progresses. Practice contractions (Braxton-Hickscontractions) are false labor contractions. They feel like tightness in the abdomen that has no pattern or get worse like labor contractions.

This article explains what contractions can be like at different stages of pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period.

What happens each week during pregnancy?

Braxton-Hicks contractions

Braxton-Hickscontractions can begin as early as the fourth month of pregnancy. They are your body's way of preparing for childbirth.These contractions feel like a feeling of tightness in the abdomen. Unlike labor contractions, these “practice contractions” do not follow a pattern.

Braxton-Hicks contractions often change or stop if you:

  • moving
  • Sleeping
  • eating
  • drinking

If you are close to your due date, you can try to tell the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and real ones by making one of the above changes to see if that causes the contractions to stop.

Braxton-Hicks contractions may occur more frequently the closer you are to your due date. They can be triggered by:

  • Activity
  • a full bladder
  • Sex
  • Dehydration

Is Braxton-Hicks serious?

Braxton-Hicks contractions are not an emergency. They are present in all pregnancies, although people may experience them differently.

However, if you feel these contractions four or more times in an hour and it's not close to your due date, check with your doctor that these aren't preterm labor contractions.

Early labor contracts

premature laborcontractions are light. They usually happen every five to 15 minutes and last 60 to 90 seconds. These contractions often feel “cramping”. You may also feel a tight feeling that starts in your lower back and spreads (radiates) toward the front of your abdomen.

You need to start timing contractions early in labor. Timed contractions can help you identify a consistent pattern and determine when to go to the hospital.

Premature labor also occurs when you may lose the mucus buildup that keeps the opening to your cervix closed during pregnancy. when you lose yourmucus plug, you may notice bloody discharge or light bleeding.This discharge and some bleeding are not uncommon – however, you should contact your doctor immediately if you experience bleeding as heavy as a menstrual period.

What are cramps during pregnancy?

Feeling of premature labor vs. Braxton-Hicks

Premature labor contractions are often confused with Braxton-Hicks contractions because premature labor contractions usually start out mild and take a while to settle into a pattern. As the actual labor approaches, you may notice other signs of early labor, such as the belly "dropping" as the fetus positions itself for delivery and the passage of the mucus plug that protects the fetus during delivery. pregnancy.

How are the contractions? (1)

Sometimes the only way to tell between practice and actual contractions is timing. The first contractions of labor will continue regardless of your activity and will continue to increase in strength and duration as labor progresses.

early labor

  • Contractions have a pattern

  • Get closer with time

  • Keep going even when you rest or move

  • Get stronger with time

  • Pain may start in the back and move to the front

Braxton Hicks

  • don't follow a pattern

  • Do not increase the frequency

  • May stop with rest or movement

  • Do not increase the intensity

  • Pain is often only felt in the abdomen

Active labor contracts

Active work is stillfirst phase work, but it is more intense than labor in the first stage. At this stage, there is no doubt that you are in labor. Your contractions are more consistent, more painful, and closer together.

Active labor contractions look like early contractions, but stronger. You can feel the sensation in your back as well as your abdomen. Also, you may experience cramps in your upper legs.

Other signs of active labor include:

  • vomit
  • water break
  • Desire to push when transitioning to the second stage

The 5-1-1 rule

The 5-1-1 rule is an easy way to monitor your contractions. When they come every 5 minutes, lasting 1 minute each, and lasting at least 1 hour, it's a sign that what you're feeling is real labor pain.


The transition is often the most challenging and overwhelming part of labor. During this time, the contractions can feel like a lot of pressure on your lower back and buttocks. You may start to feel the need to push during contractions.

This period of transition from the first phase of the work (opening of thecervix) until the second stage of labor (pushing) usually lasts from 15 minutes to an hour.

work back

Not everyone experiencesback work, but it can be very uncomfortable for those who do. Labor contractions feel like intense lower back pain. The pain is caused by the pressure of the fetal head against the lower back.

Contractions during pushing

During the pushing phase of labor – also known as the second stage – the contractions will be similar to the need to have a bowel movement.

Contractions during the second stage usually decrease considerably. For example, they probably reached the end of the first stage of labor every few minutes. In the second stage, they are spaced out by five minutes.

During the first stage of labor, contractions open (dilate) and until (to switch off) the cervix. During the second stage, contractions expel the fetus from the uterus.

postpartum contractions

After giving birth, you will continue to have contractions to help push the baby out.placenta. This is known as the third stage of labor and usually takes anywhere from five to 30 minutes.

Postpartum contractions are usually less intense than those experienced during other stages of labor. They may feel more like menstrual cramps. Even after the placenta is delivered, you will still have postpartum contractions. These contractions help bring youruterusto pre-pregnancy size.

Breast-feedingstimulates uterine contractions. If you breastfeed, you will continue to have contractions. However, most people do not experience discomfort from contractions after the first few days after giving birth.


Contractions can be different during pregnancy and childbirth. You can feel Braxton Hicks contractions as early as the fourth month of pregnancy. These are just “practice” contractions and can cause tightness and discomfort. They will not get worse or follow a pattern.

The first contractions of labor can be crampy and will occur every five to 15 minutes. These contractions will become more consistent, painful, and closer together as you go into active labor.

After birth, you will have contractions to help expel the placenta and bring the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size. If you breastfeed, you may also experience some contractions.

common questions

  • When should I go to the hospital for contractions?

    It would be best to go to the hospital when you have painful contractions that last at least one minute each and occur every five minutes for at least two hours. You should also go if your water breaks, even if you aren't having contractions.

    To know more:How to know if you are in labor

  • Can you have mild contractions for days?

    Yes. You may have mild or painful contractions for hours, days or weeks before going into active labor.This means that starting at 37 weeks, you may experience mild to painful contractions due to prodromal labor.

    To know more:What happens during prodromal labor?

9 fonts

Verywell Health uses only high quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts contained in our articles. Read oureditorial processto learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.How to know when labor starts.

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.Is it normal to feel false contractions??

  3. Lancaster Health.What are Braxton-Hicks contractions?.

  4. National Institute of Health.What are the stages of childbirth?.

  5. Intermontane Health.False vs True Labor: How to Tell the Difference.

  6. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.What is labor?

  7. Prevost M, Zelkowitz P, Tulandi T, et al.Oxytocin in pregnancy and postpartum: relationships with labor and its management.Public Health Front. 2014;2. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2014.00001

  8. UC San Diego Health.When to go to the hospital for childbirth.

  9. American Pregnancy Association.prodromal labor.

How are the contractions? (2)

ByKathi Valeii
As a freelance writer, Kathi has experience writing features and essays for national publications on health, advocacy and education topics. Most of her work focuses on parenting, education, health and social justice.

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