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Monday, September 5, 2022

Contractions 101

What are contractions?

So, what are contractions? Contractions are like your body's alarm system, alerting you about labor. But how do you know when labor is truly happening?

There are different contractions, and it can be challenging for a first-time parent to determine which kind of contractions you're experiencing. So, here are those you should know about:

  • Braxton Hicks contractions: "Warm-up" contractions are regular. It often begins in the second trimester.

  • Early contractions: These may feel like moderate menstrual cramps, and usually, they're intermittent and variable, seven to ten or even twenty minutes apart. 

  • Active labor contractions: With contractions coming closer together, from about 4-5 minutes apart and lasting around 30 seconds to a minute, it is now when the doctor or midwife suggests heading to your chosen place of birth.

  • Transition contractions: Transition is the time when the cervix changes from 8-10 centimeters. It is often the most challenging part of labor.

  • Pushing contractions: During the pushing stage, you will feel an intense sensation with contractions, like having to poop. 

  • Post-birth contractions: Once the baby and placenta have been born, you get contractions after birth. Their function is to keep the uterus contracted, so there is no excessive bleeding in the area where the placenta has been.

Why Is Timing Important?

Timing your contractions is essential to determine what stage of labor you're in so you know when the baby is coming. Even if your water breaks, you can be instructed to wait until contractions are regular and close together before heading to the place of birth.

Signs of Labor

When labor begins, you feel it primarily through labor pains. They occur because the uterus makes rhythmic movements using contractions in the muscle fibers. The more muscle fibers in the uterus that contract simultaneously, the stronger the individual will be.

The contractions also hurt because they push the baby's head down towards the pelvic floor. How muscular the contraction is will help you tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions, which are weaker and irregular. Labor contractions will be stronger. Some signs of labor include:

  • Regular strong contractions

  • Discharge

  • Pain

  • Water breaking

Start timing your contractions if some of these signs show!

How to time contractions during labor:

Here's how to time your contractions with this feature: 

  1. When a contraction begins, press the button to note the time.

  2. When the contraction stops, press again to save time.

  3. Mark the length of time from the start of the contraction to the beginning of the next. This is called frequency.

  4. Keep noting these times for at least an hour to see if a pattern occurs and if the contractions are getting closer together.

When to go to the hospital

At one of your third-trimester checkups, you'll want to discuss your birth plan so you know what exactly to do. Generally speaking, calling your midwife/healthcare provider is good if labor signs show. Your provider will use the information to decide whether you should go to the hospital or stay home longer. 

But in general, you should head to the hospital or the chosen place of birth when your contractions are three to five minutes apart and last 45-60 seconds over an hour. But remember, every woman's situation is different, so always talk with your midwife or doctor.