Pregnancy

What Do Contractions Actually Feel Like?

Team Peanut
Team Peanut5 months ago12 min read

You’ve seen them on TV. You’ve heard the horror stories from other mamas. But what do contractions feel like, really?

What Do Contractions Actually Feel Like?

When it comes to experiencing them for yourself, you can’t quite imagine what contractions feel like.

The reality is, you can read as much as you like on Peanut about contractions.

You can get all the intel on labor pains.

You can get a Ph.D. in losing your mucus plug and having a bloody show, but when the time comes, you’re going to have your own very individual experience when it comes to what contractions feel like.

That being said, it’s never a bad idea to get as informed as you can on contractions so that there are as few bombshells as possible that can be dropped on the day.

So, without further ado, let’s get cracking on the curious case of contractions.

In this article: 📝

  • What do labor contractions feel like?
  • How do I know if it’s a contraction?
  • How do contractions feel when they first start?
  • How to time contractions
  • What does baby do during contractions?

What do labor contractions feel like?

Contractions are one of your body’s most significant ways of prepping for your baby’s journey into the world.











In most cases, contractions feel like all the screws in your uterus are being tightened at once.

This sensation is often accompanied by a cramping feeling that hurts to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the contraction type, your body, and when the contractions occur.

So fun, all of it.

The muscles in your uterus are chipping in to do their (big) part in the effacement (stretching and thinning) and dilation (opening up) of your cervix.

But the job of the contractions doesn’t end there.

They then do a lot of the work to help get your baby out.

Like security guards muscling out a patron when it’s time to go.

An important characteristic of contractions?

They come in waves ‒ or, in some cases, tsunamis ‒ reaching a peak, dissipating, and then gaining momentum again.

The thing is, and you may be a little bored of hearing this when it comes to anything pregnancy-related, but everyone is different.

No contractions are made equal and when asking what do contractions feel like, there’s no one answer.

The degree of pain and discomfort you may feel differs vastly from mama to mama.

The point when the contractions occur in your pregnancy (pre-labor, early labor, or when labor is in full swing) also has a huge bearing on their intensity.

So, while no two sets of labor contractions are alike, here is a very broad outline of what contractions feel like for different mamas.

Do contractions feel like poop cramps?

Do contractions feel like you have to poop?

Sometimes, yes, contractions feel like you have to poop, but can’t.

Usually, according to our mamas of Peanut, when contractions feel like ‘poop cramps’, that tends to be the case for early contractions.

Do contractions feel like cramps?

Can contractions feel like menstrual cramps?

Sometimes, yes ‒ some of our mamas of Peanut say that contractions can feel like more powerful menstrual cramps, along with a heavy pressure on the pelvis.

Contractions and your mucus plug

Contractions are often preceded (or accompanied) by losing your mucus plug.

If you’re wondering what that is, it’s basically a little plug that’s been sealing up your cervix, acting as a mini security system to safeguard your little one from the outside world.

Of course, you can’t have them in there forever, and as your body starts preparing for labor by softening up your cervix, the mucus plug is like, “I’m out of here”.

Be on the lookout for a sticky, clear (or possibly brownish or bloody) jelly during your contractions ‒ that’s likely your mucus plug.

But it’s important to know that losing your mucus plug is not a sign that you’re going into labor.

In fact, it may happen to you weeks before your contractions start ‒ long before baby is ready to make their grand entrance.

However, it is a signal that your contractions are somewhere on the horizon, however distant a horizon that might be.

Where on bump do you feel contractions?

Now, where on your baby bump do you feel contractions?

Well, for a lot of mamas, contractions start in your lower back, then move to the pelvic region.

Labor contractions can also come from the top of the uterus, as the uterus ‘bears down’ to help get baby out.

If you have your hands on your bump, you’ll be able to feel your contractions across your abdomen ‒ a sort of tightening and hardening.

So what do contractions look like?

Well, on people with slim frames, you can see their baby bump harden during contractions.

Can contractions be at top of bump?

Yes, contractions can start at the top of your baby bump, slowly working their way down as baby gets ready to make their appearance.

How do I know if it’s a contraction?

Rather unhelpfully, there are a few sensations during pregnancy that can feel like contractions.

So how do you know if they’re contractions or something else, like Braxton Hicks contractions?

Well, the key indicator is the length of time between contractions ‒ if you feel them repetitively and the time between contractions gets shorter, then get ready to meet your baby!

Is it a contraction or baby moving?

Sometimes, baby moving can feel a little painful, like contractions.

The ultimate way to tell is whether the ‘movements’ are regular or irregular.

Irregular contractions aren’t likely to be contractions ‒ probably baby moving.

Regular contractions, lasting about 20-30 seconds each and 4-12 minutes apart probably mean baby’s on the way!

Is it a contraction or gas?

Do contractions feel like gas pains?

Sometimes, yes, they can do.

But the way to tell gas pains or contractions apart is by feeling your baby belly ‒ if your bump is hard for each wave of pain, it’s likely to be contractions.

Can labor feel like trapped wind?

Yes, contractions feel like trapped wind, according to some of our mamas of Peanut.

They’ve said that the feeling of contractions is similar to trapped wind and gas pains, but stronger.

Can I sleep through contractions?

Yes, you can sleep through contractions ‒ particularly during early contractions.

But does sleeping stop contractions?

No, you can still have contractions, even while you sleep, and it will get harder to sleep the longer contractions go on.

In fact, our veteran mamas of Peanut recommend trying to sleep as soon as you feel those early contractions ‒ after all, sleep might not be all that easy as contractions continue.

Does baby move during contractions?

Noticed baby moving like crazy in between contractions?

Well, you’re not alone!

According to this study, baby movement has been linked to contractions ‒ around 90% of contractions has baby movement.

How do contractions feel when they first start?

So what do early contractions feel like?

When your contractions begin, they may feel something like period cramps.

They might also feel like your insides are a towel and someone has taken it upon themselves to wring you out.

If your contractions are about 15 minutes apart or less, and each episode lasts about 30 seconds, it probably means that you’re in labor—but no need to rush to the hospital yet.

At this point, think comfort.

Perhaps a bath. Perhaps a massage. Perhaps a change of position. Perhaps a walk.

Also, at this point, get the timer out.

For both you and your healthcare provider, you must have the intel on how far apart your contractions are.

Next question: what do contractions feel like when they start to gain momentum?

Because generally, they really will.

They change from being relatively calm and sporadic early on to being more frequent and more intense as time goes by.

So how do you know when it’s time to pick up that bag and head to the hospital, or give your midwife a shout, or (à la Seth Meyers’ wife) head to the lobby of your apartment building?

Here’s the rule of thumb: If your contractions are less than 4 minutes apart and last for a minute or more each, it’s time to get moving.

Do early contractions hurt?

What do first contractions feel like?

Well, early contractions can range from feeling like menstrual cramps to gas pain, feeling like you need to poop, or even backache ‒ back labor.

What do Braxton Hick’s contractions feel like?

Just to throw a wrench into the situation, labor contractions are not the only type of contractions you have to watch out for.

There’s a whole other kind called Braxton Hicks contractions.

Think of Braxton Hicks contractions as your body’s way of getting in shape for the big day.

Some fast facts about Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • They can happen as early as your second trimester.
  • They don’t mean that you are in labor.
  • They don’t happen to everyone.
  • Generally, they’re not so sore, which is good news.
  • They can be a little uncomfortable (and surprising). Think period cramps. Think tightening.
  • They can be brought on by your baby’s kicking or movements you make.

How to time contractions

When you have contractions, when do you go to hospital?

Well, the simplest way to time contractions is to start counting or use the stopwatch on your phone at the time your contraction starts, then the time it stops (so you know how long the contractions are).

Then, you start counting or use a stopwatch when your contraction stops until the start of your next contraction.

If you’ve had contractions for hours, then stopped, they may not be labor contractions, but instead, Braxton Hicks contractions ‒ a sort of precursor to the real thing.

Trying to figure out if you have contractions, when to go to hospital?

Use the 411 Rule ‒ if your contractions are 4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute each, then it’s time to grab your hospital bag and get ready to meet baby!

How long after water breaks do contractions start?

If your water broke but no contractions, there’s nothing to worry about.

Around 60% of women go into labor within 24 hours of their water breaking, and the rest will typically go into labor within 48 hours.

If it’s longer than 48 hours since your water broke and contractions haven’t started yet, give your doctor a call ‒ there’s likely nothing wrong, but it’s worth getting in touch to ease your mind.

Can you have a bloody show but no contractions?

What about a bloody show but no contractions?

Well, a bloody show with no contractions can happen ‒ in fact, while some women have a bloody show a few weeks before contractions start, many others don’t have a bloody show until they’re already experiencing contractions.

Is 4cm dilated, no contractions normal?

Yes, it’s perfectly normal to be 4cm dilated with no contractions.

Unless you’re having regular contractions, it’s not technically labor just yet.

So keep an eye on your contractions (when they start), and get to timing them ‒ remember the 411 Rule!

Is 5cm dilated, no contractions normal?

Yes, you can be 5cm dilated with no contractions ‒ keep an eye out for your contractions, because once they start, that’s the start of labor.

Then, when your contractions are 4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute each, make your way to wherever you want to bring your baby into the world.

Is 6cm dilated, no contractions normal?

Yes, it’s perfectly normal to be 6cm dilated with no contractions.

In fact, it’s usually around 5-6cms of dilation that active labor actually starts ‒ compete with contractions.

My contractions are 30 minutes apart, how much longer?

We’re sorry to say that, if your contractions are 30 minutes apart, it’s likely that there could be quite some time before you get to meet baby.

One of the recommended ways to time your contractions is to wait until they’re 4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute each ‒ the 411 Rule ‒ and that’s the indicator to go to hospital, or wherever you want to have your baby.

What does baby do during contractions?

While you’re experiencing contractions, baby’s moving further and further down in your uterus, getting ready to make their grand appearance.

Do babies move during contractions?

Yes, some of our Peanut mamas report feeling baby move during and between contractions.

But not every baby moves during contractions and labor - if your baby isn’t moving much, that’s absolutely fine.

After all, every baby is different!

We get it ‒ pregnancy is fraught with gray areas, if you’re worried about any sort of pain or discomfort that doesn’t feel right, whether it’s contractions or not, consult with your doc.

So, now you know what contractions feel like, you can start getting ready to meet baby!

Crunch time is near. You’ve got this, mama.

💡 More from The 411:
Why Can’t You Eat During Labor?
How to Induce Labor (Yourself)
Preparing for Childbirth: Helpful Things to Know
What To Expect from Induction of Labor
What are the Ways to Induce Labor?
18 Labor Tips For Moms
How to Prepare for a Baby: 11 Tips
What is a Forceps Delivery? Is it Safe?
Safe Ways to Go into Labor Tonight
Your Labor and Delivery Playlist
What is Precipitous Labor?
Castor Oil for Labor: What’s That About?
Preparing for Childbirth: Helpful Things to Know
How to Prepare for a Baby: 11 Tips
Online Birthing Classes: Are They Right For You?
Hypnobirthing: What It Is, How It Works, and Top Techniques
Tips for a More Confident Birth: 4 Things to Do Before You’re Due
Birth Plan Template: Tips & Advice

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