what does labor feel like
Labor and Delivery

What Does Labor Feel Like? (Plus How You Know It’s Started)

So, what does labor feel like? Here is a handy guide on how your contractions will feel during each stage of labor and how to spot when it starts.


If you are anything like me you will be have been thinking about what giving birth will feel like since you found out you are pregnant. Well look no further, I’m going to take you through each stage of childbirth so you know exactly how labor is going to feel.


Before we talk about labor pains it is important that you know the difference between false labor and the real thing.


Braxton Hicks Contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions are false labor pains and are a tightening of the uterus that last less than a minute.

It is thought they may be the body’s way of preparing to give birth, that the muscles of the uterus are toning themselves ready for labor.

They usually can’t be felt until the second trimester but Braxton Hicks are most common in the third trimester of pregnancy. They typically occur infrequently and will not usually show any kind of pattern. They are usually mild, they may be uncomfortable but not not painful with the discomfort increasing as you get closer to your due date.


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Here are a few ways to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and the real thing.
  • Braxton Hicks are irregular and infrequent. They will usually only occur 1 or 2 times an hour. This will probably only happen a couple of times in any 1 day.
  • They are generally shorter than labor contractions, lasting less than a minute.
  • They tend to get better with exercise or if you change your position. Labor contractions will not do this.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions tend not to get stronger as labor pains do.


what does labor feel like

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So What Does Labor Feel Like?


Early Labor 

At the beginning of labor your contractions will usually be mild and may be irregular at first. It is not uncommon for them to feel like menstrual cramps or to feel them in your back. They will last no longer than 45 seconds and typically come at around 30 minutes apart.
As early labor progresses your contractions will start to get stronger and you may feel your uterus tightening. 

Early labor, will usually last between 8 and 10 hours, towards the end your contractions will be approximately 5 minutes apart.


Active Labor

You will feel contractions in active labor much more intensely. You may feel extreme tightening of the cervix, like a squeezing all around your abdomen. You may feel pain in your back and cramping in your legs.
Your contractions will last longer, roughly about one minute. They will become more frequent. You will typically get a contraction every three to five minutes as your cervix is dialating much more quickly.
I’m going to be honest with you, it’s going to be pretty painful. It is important to know your pain relief options and have laid out your wishes in your birth plan.
If you are not using pain medication or an epidural then it’s going to be intense. You may not be able to talk through your contractions now but will find that breathing exercises may help.


 This is the beginning of your baby’s descent from the uterus. Your labor pain in transition will be stronger and become increasingly more intense. You may feel pressure in the rectal area from your baby’s head, and may start to feel the urge to push.
Contractions are  longer during transition, lasting between thirty and ninety seconds. They will become much more frequent. You will usually get a contractions every 30 seconds to two minutes at this point and it is even possible for your contractions to overlap.
You will probably be feeling very tired by now and it’s not uncommon to feel nauseous during transition.


The Pushing Stage

During the pushing stage of labor your contractions may slow down,  and you will feel a lot of pressure. You may also get the sensation of needing to move your bowels.
Your contractions during this stage will usually be very strong and you may feel the urge to push with each one.
what does labor feel like


Post Birth Pains

These contractions, often called after pains are caused by your uterus contracting to get back to it’s normal size. 
After pains usually cause mild discomfort. They may be more painful if this is not your first birth. They are at their worst in the first few days after giving birth and can be triggered by breastfeeding.
Not everyone will get after pains. If you don’t get them there is no need  to worry and the uterus will still shrink back to it’s original size.


Of course contractions are not the only symptom of labor, so here are a few early warning signs to look out for.


Early Signs Of Labor


The Nesting Instinct – In the days leading up to labor you may find that you have more energy. You may feel an overwhelming urge to clean and tidy your home. You may feel the need to set up everything in the nursery, organise all of your baby items, and wash and fold all of the baby clothes.


Insomnia – In the days before labor you may find it difficult to sleep. As your body knows that labor is approaching this is just it’s way of making sure you are on alert.


Loose Joints – As labor approaches your joints will start to feel a lot less tight and much more relaxed as your pelvis begins to open up ready for baby arriving.


Pressure On The Pelvis – As labor approaches your baby will drop into your pelvis to get ready for birth. This will put a lot more pressure on to your pelvis, give you a heavy feeling, and make physical activity a lot more difficult.


Relief From Heartburn And Breathlessness – As the baby is now lower down the pressure will be taken off your upper digestive system which should reduce the symptoms of heartburn.


Your Nausea And Sickness May Return –  If you have been lucky then morning sickness should be a distant memory by now, but it is common for nausea and vomiting to return as your labor begins.


what does labor feel like


What Does Labor Feel Like?

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