If you are a first time mom and learning about labor, it may be important to learn what contractions are and the differences between the contractions you may experience.
Contractions are the tightening and relaxing of your uterine muscle or uterus. At some point within the pregnancy, your pituitary gland releases oxytocin, which stimulates your uterus to begin the tightening and relaxing or contractions. This tightening and relaxing is what slowly pushes your baby down the birth canal.
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3 Types of Labor Contractions
1. Braxton-Hicks Contractions
This may be the first type of contraction you will experience while pregnant. Braxton-Hicks contractions are also commonly known as “practice contractions”. You may start feeling them around the second trimester. Sometimes women feel them and sometimes they do not. If you do feel them, they are most commonly described as a tightening of the stomach. These contractions may help your cervix ripen, but will not cause any effacement or dilation. A lot of women may experience these contractions if they become dehydrated or overly exert themselves. Experiencing a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions may be a sign to take it easy.
2. False Labor Contractions
These are irregular and are exactly what they are called. A lot of women may believe they are going into labor, but if they change positions, the contractions will stop. False labor contractions may be described as menstrual cramps. You may feel the pain or discomfort in the front of your abdomen or pelvis. False labor contractions are irregular and don’t become closer and closer together. It is very common for pregnant women to think she may be experiencing true labor contractions and go to the hospital. Do not feel embarrassed. It is very common and better to be safe by getting yourself checked.
3. Labor contractions
Labor contractions are the sign of real labor. These contractions intensify with activity and do not stop with the change of positions. Over a period of time, these contractions will become more frequent, intense and more regular. There are also some other signs to look for, to confirm you are actually experiencing labor contractions. You may have lost your mucus plug or experience a “bloody show” or you may have an upset stomach, diarrhea, or cramping.
What Else Should You Know
When you begin noticing more consistency and strength of your contractions, it may be time to start timing them. This may be a good idea if you are still at home laboring and waiting until they get closer and closer together to go to the hospital or birthing center. It is also a good idea, so you have an idea of when you will have a short period of time for rest in between contractions. When you time your contractions, you will want to time from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction. Nowadays, there are lots of phone apps that allow you to keep track or you can use the old fashioned pen and paper way.
Another common feeling women may notice is round ligament pain. Some first time moms may not know what is going on when they feel this sensation and may even think they are some form of a contraction. Round ligament pain are the ligaments that are attached between your uterus and pelvis. As your baby grows and your uterus grows, this pain may appear. Resting and applying heat may help with this discomfort.
The feeling of contractions may vary woman-to-woman and pregnancy-to-pregnancy. Your first contractions may feel like cramping or an upset stomach. Sometimes, some women only experience back pain and maybe some pelvic pressure. Every woman’s pain tolerance is different. Some contractions for one pregnant woman may have a little discomfort but the same contractions may be a lot of pain for another pregnant woman.
The discomfort of contractions can be very hard to not think about and fight. When you are experiencing a contraction, it is important not to fight it and to try and relax your body. Also, visualizing a contraction as a positive thing and not a negative thing is a great idea. Remember, with each contraction you are experiencing, your baby is moving down your birth canal and becoming closer and closer to being born.
Contraction length can vary depending on what stage of labor you are in. Early labor, or latent phase, contractions are short and last 30 to 45 seconds and usually come every 20 minutes or so. Active labor contractions are more intense and are more frequent and last 40 to 60 seconds long and come about every 3 minutes or so. Transitional labor contractions are very strong and frequent and last about 60 to 90 seconds in length.
If you are pass due and are pass the 40-week mark, many women want to know how to start contractions themselves. Some providers may want to induce labor by a certain date if there is no sign of contractions or labor. Although, more and more research is beginning to show that women being pregnant up to 42 weeks is more and more common. The more time your baby can grow and develop in your uterus the better. There are some common ways to help induce contractions or labor, which include eating spicy foods, using castor oil, or acupuncture.
It is common to feel contractions after sex at any point in your pregnancy. This is why sometimes people believe that sex may kick-start labor. When you have an orgasm during sex, oxytocin is released which causes your muscles to contract, including your uterus. This is why sometimes women can feel strong and powerful contractions up to an hour after sex. This is normal and will not induce labor. Having sex throughout pregnancy is safe and normal for most women. If you are at risk for placenta previa, risk of preterm labor, or any other pregnancy complications, you should talk to your provider.
If you begin to feel strong and regular contractions before 37 weeks of pregnancy, it is extremely important to contact your provider. This may be a sign you are going into preterm labor. If it is determined that you are experiencing true labor contractions, you may be hospitalized, put on bed rest or may have to deliver a preterm baby. If this is your first time being pregnant, identifying the differences among all these sensations can be confusing and overwhelming. A lot of women feel embarrassed or do not want to bother their provider when they feel something. It is important to be able to communicate with your provider and it is completely okay! If at any point you are not sure and you also experience any vaginal bleeding, feel less baby movement, or your contractions are very strong and regular, call your provider immediately.