How Do I Know If I'm Having Contractions?

Labor contractions are a natural part of childbirth.How do I know if I'm having contractions? Many first time pregnant women often wonder if they will ever know for sure that their time to give birth is near.

There are actually different types of contractions, but not all of them are signs that labor is imminent. Here we offer you a guide on how to distinguish these contractions and be able to tell if you’re about to give birth.

Different Types of Contractions

Braxton Hicks Contractions

These are what we call practice contractions. You may experience them any time midway through your pregnancy, but some women do not experience them at all. Braxton Hicks contractions help to get your cervix ripe for labor, but they do not actually make the cervix dilate (widen) or efface (become thinner), as what happens during labor.

How do I know if I'm having contractions? Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and sporadic. They can last for 15-30 seconds, but sometimes even longer. They usually subside when you change your position and do not lead to labor.

How they feel: Braxton Hicks contractions begin as painless tightening sensations at the top of your uterus then spread downwards. Your abdomen may become hard and strangely crooked (or pointy). When you are near your due date, they may become more intenseand quite frequent.

New moms-to-be usually don't feel them as strongly as moms who have been pregnant before, although some first-timers are occasionally aware of them.

False Labor Contractions

False contractions are those that are often mistaken for labor contractions. However, generalized abdominal tightening occur at irregular intervals (variable intervals between contractions can last for 10 minutes, 6 minutes, and then 2 minutes, etc.) False contractions usually stop when you change your body position. They may also be accompanied by other false signs of labor, such as lack of bloody show and absence of pain.

Labor Contractions

True labor contractions signal your body that you are about to give birth. These are often accompanied by other signs of true labor such as the appearance of blood-streaked mucus from the vagina (bloody show).

How do I know if I'm having contractions? You’ll know if you’re experiencing true labor contractions because they:

  • Do not disappear by changing positions, but rather intensify when you move.
  • Become more frequent, more intense and usually more regular. They can last for 30-70 seconds, with intensity building up as labor progresses.
  • May be accompanied by other symptoms like stomach upset or diarrhea.
  • Could be accompanied by water breaking or rupture of membranes before labor begins or during labor.

What Do Labor Contractions Feel Like?

Here are some descriptions from women who have experienced labor contractions:

I was due in two days and have been experiencing back pains and regular contractions for about two weeks. At that time, my cervix was only 1cm dilated and about 75% effaced. My doctor advised me to wait until I can't walk through the painbefore coming in for admission. The contractions didn’t hurt that much, but my back and inner thighs felt really awful. I called my doctor and he advised me to relax until my contractions got really strong and regular. But I advise first time moms to call their doctors if they have questions about their labor pains to make sure they have a safe and healthy delivery. After all, it's better to go to the hospital and be sent home rather than to wait it out and not make it in timeto the hospital!

I was 10 days away from my due date and I have been having lots of irregular contractions. How do I know if I'm having contractions? They told me that real contractions usually start in the back and move to the stomach, around the navel area. They should get stronger and more frequent, to the point when you can't even talk or walk. My doctors said that when contractions become steady every 5 minutes and get stronger and more painful no matter what you do, then it's probably near your time to give birth. You should call your doctor or go to the ER right away when your water breaks or when you have bloody show. Just trust your instinct.

What to Do If Start Having Labor Contractions

Most midwives and doctors recommend calling them when your contractions are about 5 minutes apart and lasting at least 60 seconds, occurring for about an hour. When you call, tell them:  

  • How far apart your contractions are, as well as their duration and intensity.
  • Whether or not a bloody show is present.
  • If bag of waters has broken, what time it broke, and what the color of your fluid is.

You will be instructed as when to leave for the hospital. First-time mothers who are able to manage contractions may continue to stay at home until it is difficult for them to breathe through contractions. However, women who live far from a hospital or are worried about not getting there in time may plan to leave sooner.

Here are some tips on how to cope with the first stage of labor at home:

  • Soak your body in a warm tub of water or have a warm shower. If your water has broken, ask your doctor if this is advisable.
  • Try different ways to distract yourself by taking a walk or watching a movie.
  • Try to take a nap to store up energy for true labor.