How To Differentiate Labor Contractions During Pregnancy

Pregnancy Information to Understand Contractions

Bed position of pregnant girl

There are many different types of labor contractions. The ones needed to help you push your baby out are very different from the ones needed to open your cervix. If you are less than 37 weeks along and are uncertain whether or not you are experiencing contractions, contact your care provider to rule out pre-term labor.

This pregnancy information and list of contractions will help you determine what time of pain you're feeling. Here's how to differentiate between contractions.

  1. Braxton-Hicks contractions. Some experts call these 'false labor' or 'pre-labor' contractions. They are helpful though. They help your uterus learn to contract and start the process of softening and dilating your cervix. Some women experience them from six months and on, while other women don't even notice them.

    Braxton Hicks contractions are painless tightenings of your belly. Only a portion of your belly may get hard, or the contractions may pass without you realizing it. They are not painful, though they may be a little uncomfortable if you are stressed, exhausted or hungry. They do not have a rhythm and usually go away if you change position. If you are uncertain if you are in labor or experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, try drinking a large glass of water and changing positions.

  2. Early Labor Contractions. If after drinking some water and changing positions, your contractions stay, grow stronger, longer or get closer together, you are probably experiencing early labor contractions. These can go on for hours or even days. They should be nearly regular and should be uncomfortable though probably not too painful.

    Early labor contractions may peter out or slow down-which makes them hard to distinguish sometimes from Braxton-Hicks contractions. For most women, (though not all) they start in the back and radiate foreward. In addition, all of your belly should be getting hard, as hard as your chin or forehead during a contraction.

  3. early labor contractionsActive Labor Contractions. In active labor, the contractions are much closer together, longer, stronger and more regular. They are 3-6 minutes apart and like clock-work. As you go through active labor, they will get stronger, longer and closer together. These are very uncomfortable and you will need some sort of comfort measure such as breathing, meditation, massage or heat packs. You may be experiencing some bloody show or bloody mucus though you may have this with early labor contractions too. This is probably the time to be heading to your birth place, if you are not having a home birth. It is also the time to get pain medicine if you want it.
  4. Transition Contractions. These are the hardest contractions. They are very long (90 seconds), very strong and there is almost no break in-between them. You will need coping techniques to get through transition, though for the majority of women it may be best just to go with your instincts and act however you want. Yelling, moaning, vomiting, shaking or cursing are all fine during transition. On the plus side, these do not generally last for too long.
  5. Pushing Contractions. These contractions help you push your baby through the birthing canal. If you do not have an epidural, the urge to push with the contractions will be overwhelming. If you do have an epidural, you will simply feel rectal pressure or nothing all at. These are not as strong as transition contractions and there is more of a break in-between them.
  6. Delivering the Placenta Contractions. After your baby is born, your uterus will have mild contractions to help the placenta detach, stop bleeding and help you expel the placenta. If you have an epidural, you will probably not notice them. If you do not have an epidural, they will seem like strong early labor contractions. Depending on your care provider, you may be asked to push out your placenta.

With this information you can now differentiate labor contractions during pregnancy. Remember to call your doctor if you are still uncertain.


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