How Do Contractions Feel When They First Start?

Reviewed on 3/3/2021

What is a contraction?

Labor contractions are the tightening of a woman's uterus in order to deliver a baby. Contractions feel like a gradual tightening of the abdominal muscles followed by relaxation.
Labor contractions are the tightening of a woman's uterus in order to deliver a baby. Contractions feel like a gradual tightening of the abdominal muscles followed by relaxation.

Labor contractions, popularly known as contractions, refer to the tightening of a pregnant woman’s uterus (womb).

Labor contractions are most common during the last trimester (starts from the 29th week of pregnancy) of pregnancy but can often occur as early as mid-pregnancy. True labor contractions usually occur after the 37th week, most likely around your due date. If they occur before 37 weeks (before your expected delivery date) of pregnancy, it is more likely to be a sign of preterm labor. Your doctor may suggest delivering the child before your expected date of delivery.

Braxton-Hicks contractions, also referred to as false contractions, occur throughout the pregnancy. They are usually painless. If you are a first-time mother, you may feel anxious. Do not worry! Dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, sex or a full bladder can trigger these false contractions.

What do contractions feel like when they first start?

Contractions can feel overwhelming and cause discomfort when they start or you may not be able to feel them unless you touch your belly and feel the tightening. You can feel your belly getting super hard and tight at intervals. It will then become soft and relax back to normal.

What do labor contractions feel like?

Labor contractions assist you to push your baby through the birth canal.

Early labor contractions may feel as if you have an upset stomach or trouble with your digestive system. You may feel them like a tidal wave because they increase and finally subside gradually. Some women feel intense  cramps that increase in intensity and stop after they deliver. Some may feel dull pain or discomfort, whereas others feel more of a heavy pressure on their lower abdomen. The sensations vary among pregnant women. Every woman has her own experience.

Additional signs that accompany contractions include

Other things that are typical of labor contractions include

  • Their frequency: The speed of labor contractions increases steadily and they come more often.
  • Their duration: They last for a longer time.
  • The interval between two contractions: The time interval between two labor contractions decreases.
  • Their intensity: Labor contractions become more intense.

To measure the number and duration of contractions

  • Start counting when a new contraction begins. Look for the tightening of the abdomen. Note the duration as soon as it ends. This is the duration of one contraction.
  • Continue counting (do not start over) until the next contraction begins and repeat the same process. Note the interval between every two contractions.
  • Repeat the same process for one hour.

Each contraction lasts for at least 30 seconds and can go on until 70 seconds during labor. Having one at least every 15 minutes for an hour means you are more likely in labor.

When to go to the hospital

If you are a first-time mother, you should visit the hospital for any contraction if you have additional concerns. A visit to the doctor may decrease your worry.

Call a healthcare provider when labor begins. Your doctor may ask you to be admitted earlier based on your health status and birth history. First-time mothers usually labor for longer than women with a history of delivering previous children. Head toward the hospital as soon as you start feeling the contractions around or after the 37th week.


Conception: The Amazing Journey from Egg to Embryo See Slideshow

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medscape Medical Reference

Mayo Clinic

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors