What Are Labor Contractions Like?

December 6, 2019
If you're in the last weeks of your pregnancy, then it's very important for you to know how to identify your labor contractions. This way, you'll go to the hospital at the right time.

Labor contractions are the most anticipated symptoms for pregnant women whose delivery date is near.

The changes in the body of a woman are sometimes a source of anxiety as the delivery date approaches and during childbirth. There’s no doubt the symptoms that cause the most anxiety and expectations are the contractions. This is because certain forms of contractions could indicate the beginning of labor.

However, do you think you could easily identify them?

In today’s article, we’re going to show you how contractions vary in the final weeks of pregnancy so you can take the appropriate measures.

Prodromal labor or false birth

A woman having a contraction.
Labor contractions come in the form of frequent, regular painful tightening and relaxing movements of the uterine muscles.

To know if your contractions indicate you’ve gone into labor, the first thing you must know is what to expect. The contractions, as the name implies, are contractures of the uterine muscle or myometrium. These contractures exert a pressure that begins at the upper part of the uterus and pushes the baby towards the lower part, that is, the cervix.

It’s common to perceive changes and symptoms that are a part of the birth process in the final weeks of pregnancy. In fact, one of the most prominent symptoms is the appearance of the oh-so-infamous contractions. However, not all of them have to do with the stages of dilation and the birth process.

The body needs to prepare in advance and does so progressively, especially when it’s the first delivery. Thus, irregularity is the main characteristic of the contractions you feel during the prodrome labor stage.

It’s very common to be anxious in the last stage of pregnancy as soon as you begin to feel that your abdomen hardens at certain times of the day. Also, you may feel like you have menstrual pain in the final weeks of your pregnancy. However, don’t worry. Instead, remain aware of what to look out for when it comes to symptoms you’re ready to give birth.

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What to do in the stage of prodromal labor

A pregnant woman getting a massage.
Techniques such as massage or hot water baths can reduce the contractions of false labor.

The main characteristic of prodromal labor is that the discomfort usually disappears when changing posture or reducing physical activity. So, there are a few things you can do to reduce the degree of perceived discomfort and promote your well-being.

These include:

  • Hot baths or showers. The water temperature doesn’t have to be very high. Each woman will set the temperature she needs, the goal is for it to provide her comfort.
  • Use an exercise ball to stretch your back and hips. You should sit on the ball with your legs at 90º angles about your thighs and an angle of approximately 180º when you open them. Then, you must do lateral, circular and front to back movements.
  • Lumbar area massages. To do these, you’ll have to recruit a second person who can do circular massages. They can use a bit of natural oil, almonds, marigold and Aloe vera for it.

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How to identify your labor contractions

A woman in labor.

As labor contractions progress in time and intensity, the force exerted on the cervix will dilate it. This will lead to the appearance of labor symptoms with the consequent “dropping” of the baby and their subsequent birth.

To know for sure if your signs are in fact labor contractions and to be able to differentiate them from false labor, you must learn what are their specific characteristics:

  • Regularity. Labor contractions should be regular in frequency and intensity. There must be a maintained rhythm for a while to know for sure that the birth process has begun. Such regularity in the rhythm must go on for at least one hour.
  • The duration. Plus, each contraction should last a minute from beginning to end.
  • Perception. All contractions are perceived differently by different women. What’s for sure is they seldom go unnoticed. Pain is not exactly a symptom because it’s subjective. However, your perception of what’s happening to you is important, so if you feel a lot of pain and the above symptoms, it’s likely they’re contractions.

What to do if you have labor contractions

  • If you’re convinced you’re having labor contractions, then remain calm and get ready to go to your delivery clinic.
  • Try to relax.
  • Time the contractions with a clock.
  • Maintain your serenity if you detect fetal movements.
  • Ask a family member to go with you.
  • Take your baby bassinet, suitcase and any pregnancy records you might need.
  • Go to your maternity clinic or nearest emergency department.
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  • Kozhimannil, K. B., Johnson, P. J., Attanasio, L. B., Gjerdingen, D. K., & Mcgovern, P. M. (2013). Use of nonmedical methods of labor induction and pain management among U.S. women. Birth. https://doi.org/10.1111/birt.12064
  • Chao, T. T., Bloom, S. L., Mitchell, J. S., McIntire, D. D., & Leveno, K. J. (2011). The diagnosis and natural history of false preterm labor. Obstetrics and Gynecology. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0b013e318236e7db
  • Bonapace, J., Chaillet, N., Gaumond, I., Paul-Savoie, É., & Marchand, S. (2013). Evaluation of the Bonapace Method: A specifc educational intervention to reduce pain during childbirth. Journal of Pain Research. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S46693