Here’s what to expect from warm-up and true labor contractions.

“How do I know when I’m in labor?” This is one of the most common questions I am asked as a mother-baby nurse and childbirth educator. It’s a great question. And the common answer of “you just know,” doesn’t really cut it for mama’s who have never been in labor.

To begin, let’s talk about contractions.

What are contractions?

A pregnancy and labor contraction are when your uterus tightens (contracts) as it prepares for the coming birth of your baby.

Many of us don’t think of the uterus as a muscle because it’s a smooth muscle and one we don’t consciously control. But it is indeed a muscle. When your uterus contracts, it is tightening, just as if you were to flex your bicep, and then it relaxes again.

Warm-up Contractions (also called Braxton Hicks contractions)

Our uterus is actually having these contractions throughout our pregnancy, even early in the first trimester, but typically we don’t feel them. Warm-up contractions usually begin to be noticed, or felt, in the mid second trimester. When we enter the third trimester, we may notice that Braxton Hicks come more often and may be uncomfortable. This is our body’s way of preparing for childbirth.

What Does a Contraction Feel Like?

Warm-up contractions are mostly noticed as a “tight belly.” When we suddenly notice that are baby feels like a firm basketball, we are having a contraction. These are usually only felt in the front of our bellies (not our backs). Contractions may feel crampy at times, and then only “tight” at other times. This is normal during our third trimester. (Make sure to read below “If you are less than 37 weeks, call the dr if…) A contraction may last a few seconds or a couple of minutes.

Warm-up contractions can be uncomfortable. Make sure you are hydrated. Dehydration can cause more contractions. If the contractions are bothering you, try a different activity. Go for a walk if you’ve been lying down. If you’ve been on your feet awhile, take a warm bath. Simply changing your activities can settle your contractions.

True Labor Contractions

True labor contractions may start out much like Braxton Hicks, but they will get more intense over time. Braxton Hicks stay in the front portion of your uterus, whereas labor contractions start in your low back and wraps around to the front. Labor contractions become longer and stronger as time goes on, and no matter which activity you do, it won’t stop true labor.

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Rachel is a Postpartum Nurse of 15+ years. She is also a Spinning Babies® CPE, Childbirth Educator, Published Author, and Recipe Creator. Rachel's passion is to encourage and empower women in all things related to motherhood.

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