Uterine contractions are the body’s way of moving your baby down the birth canal and into the world. However, there are different types of contractions a woman can have during pregnancy, including Braxton Hicks contractions and actual labor contractions. Women also experience contractions differently, which can make them difficult to recognize in the early stages. Read on to learn more about contractions, and how to recognize when your contractions signal that labor is imminent.
Braxton Hicks contractions are also known as false labor contractions or sometimes as “practice” contractions. They typically occur from the second trimester on. Some women never experience them, and some women have them for months. Doctors don’t know exactly why women have Braxton Hicks contractions. Some theories are the contractions prepare the uterus for labor and/or that they may encourage blood flow to the placenta. These contractions aren’t harmful to baby, but they can cause alarm on the part of the expectant mom.
Some symptoms associated with Braxton Hicks contractions include:
- Tightening of the uterus for 30 to 60 seconds
- Irregular in their occurrence
- Remain at the same intensity and frequency over time
- Taper off with time and will often stop altogether
Real labor contractions are designed to help the cervix start to thin out and widen as well as ultimately helping baby move through the birth canal. Having labor contractions doesn’t mean that labor is going to happen within a few hours or even day. However, they do mean you are getting closer to meeting your little one(s). Labor contractions have some distinct differences from Braxton Hicks contractions. They include:
- Pain or discomfort that gets worse with movement instead of better (Braxton Hicks contractions will often go away with movement).
- Become more frequent in intensity over time. They may also start to occur more closely together.
- Lower abdominal pressure that may feel like heavy menstrual cramping.
- Are accompanied by other signs of labor, including a rupture of membranes or bloody show, which is when the mucus plug passes.
What Contractions Feel Like
The experience of having contractions can differ from mother to mother. Some moms may describe pain and pressure in the lower back while others may have front abdominal or pelvic pain. Contractions are basically muscle cramping, but cramping that can be prolonged and occur at regular intervals. Some descriptions of contractions laboring moms have described include:
- Deep abdominal pain
- Gas pains
- Strong backache
- Strong menstrual cramping
The position of the baby as it moves down the birth canal as well as the mom’s own individual pain experience can all determine what contractions may feel like for an expectant mom.
When to Call Your Doctor
A woman may have contractions for weeks before her baby actually arrives (they are usually quite a bit of time apart and lesser in intensity). However, there are some contraction instances you should always call your doctor about:
- If your contractions are growing stronger and your baby isn’t 38 weeks old yet
- If your water breaks, and the fluid is green or brown.
- if the contractions cause the umbilical cord to slip out of the vaginal canal.
- The contractions are causing you intense and/or unbearable pain.
- You are experiencing vaginal bleeding.
Otherwise, you should call your doctor if your contractions start to be somewhere between five to seven minutes apart. This frequency of contractions can indicate that labor may be imminent.