What do REAL contractions feel like? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 17 Old 10-13-2010, 06:10 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm getting a TON of Braxton-Hicks lately at 29 weeks and have been for a while now and although the tightening causes me to have to reposition myself/lean back to sort of counter the odd feeling they cause, they aren't painful at all (and I understand that they aren't supposed to be). Anyway I'm having a HB & this is my first baby and I'm thinking about when I would call my MW to tell her to head over (obviously I would probably call her to tell her I'm in labor and then keep her updated). But since I haven't done this before I'm wondering if anyone can give me their opinion on what contractions in active labor feel like...I imagine I would probably call her around that time (when it gets really difficult for me to move). I've heard early labor just tends to feel like bad menstrual cramps...and I've unfortunately had tons of experience with those. Just trying to get an idea of what to expect!
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#2 of 17 Old 10-13-2010, 06:22 PM
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Contractions feel different for everyone. I think what I would suggest is that once the contractions are in a a good pattern meaning coming for at least two hours lasting about a minute and about 3 minutes or less apart. Add to that some intensity. You need to have some sweat on your brow before I would have the midwife come over. If she comes over and determines that it isn't time for her to be there yet, no big deal!

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#3 of 17 Old 10-13-2010, 06:34 PM
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When early labor started after tons of BH with my first I said wow these are powerful! Actually in retrospect they were moderately strong. They would build up gradually and at the peak would be an *intense* muscle flex of my whole belly and around to the back. Mine fade gradually, taking some stretching/rocking/wiggling of my pelvis and back after each to feel loose again between contractions. Then as it goes on over the hours they get longer, stronger, closer together. Luckily you get into the groove and your endorphins build up as it intensifies, so it's doable. In the middle of an active labor contraction it's likely all you can to do hold on and do labor, no room for attention anywhere else.

Unless you had a strangely fast labor you'd realize you need to let the midwife know in plenty of time just because labor keeps coming. A lot of times they say strong contractions 1 minute long, 5 minutes apart is time to go to the birthplace/call in the HB attendant, or sometimes 3 minutes apart to wait til a little further along. A good midwife will also help to assess how far you are by description of the contraction timing and how you feel on the phone at the time.
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#4 of 17 Old 10-13-2010, 06:38 PM
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Mine was a hospital delivery with my first and I had some serious BH starting at around this time and the odd thing was that I could time them even then. They definitely were uncomfortable, but didn't exactly hurt. At one point ended up going to the hospital because they were three minutes apart. They stopped while I was there, though, so thankfully did not have to get on any meds.

When I went into labor... the contractions felt absolutely the same & the timing between them didn't change at all, but they didn't stop after 24 hours. At about 45 hours they turned into very painful menstrual type cramps and I gave birth about 5 hours later.

As PP said, time them if they start lasting more than a couple of hours and see if they get stronger in intensity. I was actually a week late but had BH many times between the time she was due and when she came. Each time, though, despite the fact that they were getting closer and closer together, they would abruptly stop after 2-3 hours (except the one time I went to the hospital when they lasted for 8 hours).
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#5 of 17 Old 10-14-2010, 11:48 AM
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My most recent birth my contractions were nothing more than strong, intense BH. I was actually in denial for a while because they didn't feel different.

Contractions feel different for everyone!

~ Fe ~
Mama to C (3-25-06) and A (1-17-09) and Jameson Grant (9-25-10) my HBA2C baby!
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#6 of 17 Old 10-14-2010, 06:14 PM
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Originally Posted by sattygirl99 View Post
Contractions feel different for everyone!

I had a ridiculous amount of super annoying BH during my pregnancy and felt pretty much the same as you: How would I know when it was really real? Despite the fact that my labor started with my water breaking - I would have known even if it had stayed intact. For me, there was no mistaking that it was real because of how totally different the contractions felt. No question. They did feel a little menstrual like for about 45 minutes, but then they became ... very, um ... labor like.

I also had my first baby at home and wondered about how things would play out...When it came down to it, it was pretty much instinctual as far as calling the midwife (the entire thing was pretty instinctual actually). And when we called her back, when within an hour because my contraction were already a minute long and <4 minutes apart, she arrived at my home about 5 hours later - 2 hours before I started pushing.

ahhh to be able to think well enough to create a clever signature.sleeping.gif someday i will have enough sleep to accomplish this task...

Janae, mama to X (1/09) & X (7/11) and wife to J (since 9/96!)  Homebirthing, cloth diapering, baby (and toddler) wearing, co-sleeping, lactivist, intactivist. luxlove.gif

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#7 of 17 Old 10-14-2010, 11:33 PM
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my midwife uses the phone method, but it helped that my sister (l&d nurse, midwifery student) was there. they could talk technical. but really, when i got on the phone with her and described how i felt, she said to call back in a few hours or sooner if things progressed. i had my sister call back 90 minutes later and they knew it was time when, in response to sis holding phone out i said "i don't wanna talk to her! tell her to get her @ss in the car!"
there were still a few hours to go, but that was the signal.
you'll know....

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#8 of 17 Old 10-15-2010, 12:24 AM
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A lot of people say it is time to call the MW when mom gets serious. In early labor most are happy and excited..think "yeah, it's baby's birthday!". When mom gets to the point where she isn't so bubbly and excited, call in the troops! I guess my MW told my husband to call when I got insistent. So not "do you think we should call," but rather "call now and get me my F'n MW!"

My labor pains felt like the severe cramps I get with AF, combined with a feeling I associate with constipation or the runs, a sort of uncontrollable muscle straining. No gentle ctx for me, but my labors also only last 4-5 hours start to baby. They start slow, like an ache, peak with a burning pain like a charley horse, then fade to muscle soreness. Don't worry, you will know!

CD'ing, homebirthing, milk making school teacher. Supporting my family on my income and trying to get out of debt in 2013!
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#9 of 17 Old 10-15-2010, 02:27 AM
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With DD I wasn't 100 percent sure it was labor until my bowels started emptying. because I had been having strong, regular BHs that laster for a couple hours at a time every night for about a week before that, I wasn't sure it was the real thing at first. even if you can't tell the difference between the contractions right away, you will get other signs.

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#10 of 17 Old 10-16-2010, 01:08 PM
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To ME, they felt like menstrual cramps (because, really, that's what they are! the uterus is contracting in both situations to expel something). I was in early labour for about 24 hours which felt like mild, sometimes moderate, menstrual cramps but the difference is that they had some kind of pattern to them. They were kind of all over the board as far as length and frequency, but it was always a "start, stop" consistency. That's something that I've never felt with regular menstrual cramps...there is no "on, off, on, off" repetition. When my water broke they became much harder and I entered active labour then. Those were the same way, only they were SUPER OUCHY menstrual cramps that got more painful as it went on (I was only in active labour for 5 1/2 hours though, yay!). Within a few contractions of active labour I just *knew* that DS was coming soon. We called my MW who was cleaning up from another birth and she said she'd meet us at 1:30am (it was maybe 12-12:30am at this time, and my water broke at 11:30pm)...it hadn't been long but I was so deep in active labour that I was honestly worried about getting there in time. It came on VERY fast, and I knew something was up. While we made it there at 1:30 with nearly 4 hours to spare, I did indeed have a very fast labour, which no one expected at all. Her assistant almost didn't make it in time! So make sure you trust your instincts - if something is telling you "GET THE MW NOW" then just trust your instincts. At worse, she'll come, nothing will progress, and she'll go home. HBMWs aren't at all new to that.

So, yeah. Period cramps with a repetitive pattern. Just like my sister told me they would be.

- E . Single mom to DS  E (15.12.05),  T (reincarnated 18.04.08) and DD   A (11.02.11) and  Hoppy      
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#11 of 17 Old 10-16-2010, 01:23 PM
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All my bh contractions were completely painless, in fact, sometimes I didn't even know I was having one until I put my hand on my belly and felt how hard it was. The first contractions that weren't painless felt like short menstrual cramps, I had a few one morning, got up to find bloody show, and then they came back that evening when I went into labor. We called the midwife when my water broke, I had been up laboring for a few hours alone, sort of playing the game of, "how long can I do this by myself". My water broke, I woke my husband to get some towels, and he called the midwife right afterward. I had the baby about 11 hours later, but I was definitely in active labor when she got there.

Mommy to DS1 July '09 and DS2 Oct '12 and someone new in May '15

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#12 of 17 Old 10-16-2010, 01:37 PM
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I get lots and lots of timeable BH contractions, and I go past my due date, making it tricky to know true labor. When labor starts, it's not always very different in the quality of the contractions. But I have noticed for me that BH will start fairly close together and be very long, but not change. So, like 5 min apart, each 90 sec, but remain in this pattern for about 2 hours not changing. Real labor contx start far apart, 15-20 min, but very short. They quickly change their patterns coming closer and longer and stronger. I also usually start getting show. Of course, each labor being different, I had absolutely no mucus or show with my last labor, and baby arrived shortly after my midwife.

The longer, stronger, closer together is the formula that you need to pay attention to. Almost every functioning labor will follow this, except for your very rare grand multip who can active labor at 10 min apart and then push out a baby. LOL I like to use BH as practice for relaxing. When they come on, I do my best to relax every muscle, especially my abdominal muscles as much as I can. It trains your body to relax into them and sets up muscle memories. Very useful.

ETA: Oh, also, BH often start at the fundus and move down. Labor contractions start by the cervix and radiate upwards. Some women feel them start in the back and move around the front.

Mom to eight!!  Our twin girls arrived 3-3-2011.

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#13 of 17 Old 11-03-2010, 10:29 PM
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I just wanted to jump in to second, or third, the notion that not all contractions feel the same! I was prepared for something that felt like intense menstrual cramps, and also for a process that started out slow and got more intense over time - and in the end, my experience was neither.

I was lying in bed, reading, at about 2am when suddenly I felt like someone was trying to yank my legs out of the hip sockets. It just took my breath away, and then after an intense few moments (30 seconds? Not sure), it just disappeared. According to DH, I blurted out, "Holy sh*t, what was THAT?!", and he said he knew right then I was in labor (even though this was 2 weeks before my due date). In the end, ALL of my contractions were in my hips - I never felt anything like a menstrual cramp until after DS was born, and I was delivering the placenta. THAT was when I had my "Oh this is what everyone was talking about!" moment. But during active labor, all I could do was racewalk across the apartment and back during contractions - because all the action was all in my legs/hips, moving around was the only thing that helped me work through the pain.

As for calling the MW, the other mamas were exactly right. As not-comforting as this may feel right now, YOU WILL KNOW when you need her, stat! When we called our MW (after I'd been in labor exactly 60 minutes), she suggested I get into the tub to relax and try to slow things down. It took me about 5 minutes to realize that that was NOT going to happen - I just couldn't do it, my body was directing me elsewhere. I called her back and said, "No can do. I need you NOW!" And you know, 3 hours later, DS was born.

I promise you - it will all work out! It just might not happen the way you expect.
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#14 of 17 Old 11-03-2010, 11:27 PM
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Trust me, you'll know when you are in active labor!! Contractions will be very strong and close together.

Because my labor was 44 hours I questioned at first also. But I called my midwife right away. That's what she's there for!

Crunchy Christian mama to my home birthed, unvaxed, uncirc boys Shane and Cody!!joy.gif
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#15 of 17 Old 11-04-2010, 12:38 AM
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My best advice is that you might wonder in early labor if they are real or not, but once active labor hits, I doubt you'll question it. And once you feel that drive - that force that makes you do things like rock, moan, pace, or squeeze your partner's hand - you will know that it's time to call your MW. And if things move really fast, I'm sure your partner will know to call!
I think it's best to not expect ctx to feel a certain way, or be a certain length, or at certain intervals, because those are the very reasons that friends of mine have felt that they were not in labor, and it was their hubbies who finally simply took them in because my friends couldn't cope with the pain anymore. One of my friends had super long ctx, lasting 10 minutes, and almost completely in her back. Her hubby recognized it as labor, but she did not until she finally got to the hospital, fully effaced and dilated.LOL
I'm pretty sure you will know if you keep an open mind and listen to your body.
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#16 of 17 Old 11-04-2010, 01:11 AM
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I don't think there is a really good way to describe what a contraction feels like. The difference is that they hurt. My braxton hicks, even the most uncomfortable ones, could never really truly be described as painful. I knew my first labor contraction because it woke me up at 6am. And I woke up at 8am with another... and I could just tell they were different. You may not know right away... but believe me, you'll figure it out.

Bri helpmeet to Chaise mama to K(2/07)  M(3/09) & A(2/11)

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#17 of 17 Old 11-04-2010, 01:31 AM
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I know you don't want to hear it but... You'll just know! When I was pregnant with DD (my 1st) I thought that was crazy. I read all kinds of pregnancy books trying to figure out what to expect beyond "You'll just know." Honestly though I stayed home in labor for two hours because I didn't know and wasn't having 'textbook' symptoms but I figured it out pretty quick.

With DD my water broke in the middle of the night in one big gush. I rushed to the bathroom to find it was over (no bloody show, no leaking, etc) and thought "Oh my gosh did I just pee on myself or did my water break?" I had a back ache though and couldn't sleep. Two hrs later my 'back ache' was so bad that I couldn't move when it was hurting and it would just disappear. Finally figured out it was contractions and got to the hospital at 5 cm dilated. Had her in 7 hrs from the time my water broke until she was out.

DS I was already dilating before I ever went into labor and waited and waited with nothing. I woke up at 5 am to a SHARP! pain across my back and knew it had to be a contraction. I timed it for about 30 min-1 hr before my contractions were already so strong I couldn't move during them at all. Had him in 5 hrs from start to finish.

I just have back labor. I've never felt the menstrual cramps or the hard tightening of my stomach. My belly does tighten during contractions but my back hurts so dang much I don't pay that any attention. You'll know when you're in labor! Oh and the part about when mom quits joking and being bubbly is right. Even once I knew I was in labor with mine I was okay. Towards the end though it was no joking matter. It's quite likely I would've choked anyone that cracked a smile at me during a contraction! And don't dare argue with a laboring woman!!!

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