Contractions in Labor - Be Empowered Birth Series

Contractions in Labor - Be Empowered Birth Series

Contractions in Labor

Be Empowered Birth Series

One of the many telling signs that labor is beginning is when you start to feel contractions. We hear a lot of different things about contractions, and it can be scary to hear such contrasting things. We wanted to give you some basic information about contractions, and some important things for you to remember as you get ready to welcome your little one into this world.

How Contractions Work

Contractions are a gradual tightening and relaxing of the uterus that occur in rhythmic intervals. The uterus has muscle fibers running vertically, as well as horizontal circular muscles. During the first stage of labor, these muscles work to squeeze the baby in and down while pulling cervix back to open it. During the second stage, the muscle fibers at the top of the uterus (fundus) work to press down on the baby to move it down and out of the mother's body.

Prelabor vs. Labor

Prelabor contractions:

Can appear to be labor with regular contractions

They do not get closer together, stronger, or longer

Typically slow down or stop with rest, taking a shower/bath, eating, drinking water

Usually are caused by dehydration

Labor contractions:

They are usually regular and typically begin with a pattern of 8-10 minutes apart

They do get longer, stronger, and closer together

They continue even with rest, drinking water, and taking a shower/bath

Some women say contractions feel like menstrual cramps or intestinal cramping, while others say it feels like a backache. You may feel the contractions starting at your back and coming around to your front. Many women report feeling a hardening or tightening of their belly. There is a variety of normal, and unfortunately no guarantee on what the contractions will feel like to you.

Timing Contractions

The two things that are important to remember is how far apart the contractions are, and how long the contractions are lasting. You calculate how far apart contractions are by looking at the time from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction. This can be referred to as the frequency of your contractions. And then you also figure out how long each contraction is lasting, or the duration. You do this by timing from the beginning of the contraction to the end of it.

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Most providers have you use 4 - 1 - 1 (every four minutes, lasting for 1 minute, for at least one hour) before coming to the hospital or birth center. It is important for you to remember that the frequency and duration of the contractions are not always a completely accurate picture for when you should go. Knowing other signs leading up the transition stage will be helpful for you to keep in mind also to gauge you are further along.

There are a lot of apps that you can download to use for timing contractions. We recommend you download Full-Term.

How to manage contractions with comfort techniques, positions and much more can be learned during our Be Empowered Childbirth Education classes. Learn more and sign up for a class below!