WHAT ARE CONTRACTIONS?
Contractions occur when muscles in your uterus tighten-up and relax. This muscle-flexing softens and widens (dilates) the opening to your uterus, called the cervix. It pushes your baby down and out of the uterus, allowing him/her to descend into the birth canal and into position for delivery.
What do they feel like?
Contractions can be experienced in different ways by different people. You may feel them as lower abdominal cramps - a bit like bad period pain. Or, it may be like a persistent and dull ache in your lower back. Some women experience pain in their inner thigh that runs down their legs.
Contractions come as waves - each one building to a peak and ebbing away. You will feel them starting in the back and moving to the front. While the uterus is contracting, you may feel your abdomen harden and then soften when the uterus relaxes.
Contractions begin slowly at first, and as labour progresses, they build-up in intensity and frequency. Generally, they stop and start - sometimes they come in layers, on top of one another.
Do my contractions indicate active labor?
If you are pregnant for the first time, you may confuse abdominal tightening (which is experienced during the second and third trimester) with labor contractions.
In reality, it is very different from labor contractions; the discomfort comes and goes without getting stronger and closer together. These are just signs that your uterus is prepping-up for delivery.
Labor contractions have a rhythm, a pattern. Typically, they happen at regular intervals, about 4 to 5 minutes apart. And they last around 30 to 70 seconds; they get more consistent, intense, and frequent as your labor progresses.
Figuring out the way your contractions are going, and having your partner timing the duration of contractions will help you know how the labor is progressing, track the stages of labor, and assist in finding out when you are in active labor and should go to the hospital.