The joy of having a baby and starting a family with someone you love is a beautiful thing until you start reading about HOW that baby actually gets out of your body.
Even though I had c-sections, I went into labor for both.
At first, I thought it wasn’t so bad with my eldest. I mean, my water broke everywhere. I wasn’t in pain (yet!), and I felt like a wet mess. But I hadn’t even started my contractions.
Until I was at the hospital, then those started coming.
With my youngest, I got up to go to the bathroom in the night and felt a contraction. And I knew, probably because I’d been down that road before. I tried to sleep through them once I knew I was in labor because I did NOT want to be stuck in that uncomfortable hospital bed longer than I needed to be.
So, today, I’m going to tell you what contractions feel like in early labor and help prep you for what’s to come. Don’t be scared, mama. You’ve got this!
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How do contractions feel when they first start?
You have contractions in labor to help push the baby out of your body. But those early labor contractions might not feel as intense. That’s why you may think, oh, this is fine. Why does everyone complain?
So, in the beginning, you may think you just have a belly ache or need to poop. But then, they could come in waves and clue you in a bit more since they’ll subside.
And every woman is different, so it makes it even more challenging to describe, but I’ll try. You may feel intense cramps that get more intense and only stop after you give birth.
You may feel a dull pain or general discomfort. Or you may feel heavy pressure in the lower part of your abdomen.
When you have contractions in early labor, you may also have a dull backache. Your water may noticeably break, though perhaps not as noticeably as mine did with my first.
You’ll likely notice some vaginal discharge here, too, with slight bleeding plus some diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
So, if you’re getting close to the end of your pregnancy and feel these things, pay attention. It might be baby time!
You can also experience some unusual labor signs, check those here.
Where are early labor contractions felt?
Again, this can vary from person to person. Labor contractions can cause discomfort or a dull aching sensation in your lower abdomen and back. You may feel pressure in your pelvis too.
Some women have felt pain in their sides. And their thighs!
Some say the contractions feel like strong menstrual cramps from a terrible period. Others say they feel like the kind of cramps from diarrhea.
How about you, Leslie?
In both births, I would liken them to the worst menstrual cramps EVER. For me, they were awful though I’ve had friends who said the contractions they had felt milder than their period cramps. Lucky!
Can early labor contractions come and go?
Perhaps! There is something called prodromal labor. This is when labor starts and stops before the phase of active labor starts.
This, incidentally, is what they call “false labor.” The contractions are genuine, but they keep coming and going, and your labor may not progress. You will feel pain and regularity with those contractions.
The difference from active labor is the starting and stopping. They may come and go simultaneously each day or come and go in regular intervals.
This condition is quite common and may lead even a mama with a brood of many children to rush to the hospital because she thinks it’s time.
However, with prodromal labor, it can start weeks to a month in advance or just days in advance of active labor. Your doctor will assess the situation and tell you what you should do depending on your situation.
How long are contractions in early labor?
In early labor, and I can attest to this, you might feel mild contractions. They will show up every 5 to 15 minutes and generally last anywhere from one minute to a minute and a half.
If you’re a first-time mom, you can expect this phase of labor to run around 6 to 12 hours. You do not need to hurry along to the hospital unless your water breaks like mine did with my eldest. Or, if you live in a more rural area, you may want to call your doctor and see what they advise so you can get there in enough time.
The bloody show or that pink-red vaginal discharge may also appear. In early labor, my favorite suggestion is to take a shower. Take your time, do your hair and makeup. Because you’ll look like a mess for days, it does help to feel pretty going into it.
Other things you should do in early labor:
- Go over your birth plan with your husband/support person/doula
- Try breathing methods to relax and deal with the pain
- Find ways to relax/stay calm
- Take a walk (go with someone just in case)
- Switch positions often
- Double-check your hospital bag because you’ll need to leave soon
- Breathe slowly during those contractions
When it’s active labor (about 4 to 8 hours in length), your contractions will be more regular, and your cervix will have dilated to 6 cm. You will notice the contractions become longer, stronger, and more painful.
That’s what shocked me most. I thought I could handle it based on my early labor contractions. OMG. It can make you feel sick to your stomach. I threw up on a nurse (and wherever you are, I’m so sorry!).
Basically, early labor is a walk in the park compared to what’s to come. So, if you’re having regular contractions and you’re thinking, “This isn’t so bad,” then brace yourself. Practice your breathing and prepare because everything is about to come full force. But soon, you’ll get to see the face of that little thing that was kicking you, and I promise, it’s so worth it!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.