What Do Contractions Feel Like + What Happens During a Contraction

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- Hey, mama, are you a first-time mom

wondering what contractions feel like?

I know so many mamas who are a little bit anxious

about what those contractions are going to feel like.

And so, they find themselves asking this question

as they prepare their mind and their body

for what to expect during labor and birth.

I truly believe that the more you know about birth,

the more likely it will be for you

to walk confidently into it.

So I put out a questionnaire asking mamas

what their contractions felt like,

and now I'm sharing their answers with you

so you know exactly what to expect

during your birth experience.

I'm also sharing with you my favorite way

to envision contractions to help you understand

and manage them the best that you can.

I'm Bridget, and I'm a birth doula

in the San Francisco Bay area,

and I love helping moms love their birth.

For more resources and tips on how to have

an empowered and positive birth experience,

make sure you are subscribed to my channel,

and have hit the little bell

so you don't miss any of my future videos.

(air whooshing)

So first of all, what is a contraction?

A contraction is defined as a shortening

of the uterine muscles that occurs at intervals

before and during childbirth.

Now let's break that down together.

Your uterus actually begins to contract

even before you go into labor.

You might notice a tightening feeling in your belly,

especially towards the end of your pregnancy,

and these are known as Braxton Hicks.

Braxton Hicks don't build an intensity

or get closer together until labor does begin.

And then, as you move into the early part of labor,

you'll begin to feel your contractions

a lot more frequently.

Now it helps to envision your contractions as waves,

and this is one of my favorite ways to explain contractions,

and it kind of gives you a good mental image

of what to expect when a contraction comes.

So during early labor, the waves are pretty mellow.

They break at your ankles, sort of sporadically,

some waves a little bigger and closer together,

others still gentle and farther apart.

And with each of those contractions or waves,

your uterus muscle draws upward,

and that along with the pressure of baby's head

helps your cervix to shorten or efface

and begin opening or dilate.

So what will that feel like?

At this time, your contractions

are probably going to feel a lot like period cramps.

Uncomfortable, but pretty easily manageable,

and often, coupled with an annoying backache.

But remember, those sensations will most likely come

in waves where the cramps and the hardening of your stomach

becomes more pronounced as the wave breaks over your feet,

and then it goes away into a more subtle achy feeling

of those menstrual-like cramps

and the backache until that next wave comes.

You're going to be able to talk through these contractions,

move around and pretty much be your normal self.

Now, these are sensations that are typical

with an unmedicated birth.

If you're being induced,

you're likely to experience more intense waves early on.

In this video, I'm covering what contractions are like

in a spontaneous unmedicated labor.

So with that being said, as labor keeps progressing

and your contractions become more intense and regular,

those achy menstrual-like cramps

turn into very intense cramps,

along with that tightening of your belly

and that worsening backache.

Women express feeling strong pressure

in their lower abdomen,

pressure on their perineum,

which is the area of skin and muscle

connecting your vagina to your anus,

cramping in their hip flexors,

which is the joint area

where the top of your legs hit your hips,

and then really achy pressure in their lower back.

Now at this point, it's important to remember

that the uterus is a muscle

and if you've ever worked out

or needed to use the same muscle over and over again

as you did an activity,

you know the feeling of muscle fatigue.

The uterus is working from the beginning of labor

until the time that your baby is born,

usually for several hours,

which means the harder and longer it works

to get your baby down and out,

the more tired and sore it's going to get,

but that doesn't mean that anything is wrong

or that you need to be afraid

of those intensifying sensation,

it just means that your uterus muscle,

just like every other muscle that you work out,

is doing some really hard and good work.

Now by the time that you're in active labor,

those waves are coming about every three to five minutes,

and are growing higher and deeper.

Those same sensations that you felt during early labor

are felt now, but are much, much more powerful.

Those waves last for about 60 seconds.

And then, you'll be able to rest until the next wave comes.

Now imagine you're holding your breath through these waves.

You'll probably be able to do that for a few of them

and be okay, but eventually,

holding your breath is going to make you feel more tired

and more uncomfortable.

So now imagine you have a scuba suit on with an oxygen mask

or at least a snorkel that always reaches above the waves,

and as you're riding these waves

that sometimes feel way over your head

and extremely powerful,

you're able to calmly breathe through them

and know that the wave is going to pass,

and you'll be able to come to the surface

and be able to float and relax.

When you're riding the waves that way,

your body is going to stay so much more relaxed

and your muscles are going to get the oxygen that they need

to keep going to the end of labor

and give you the comfort that you need to cope

with those challenging contractions.

Breathing through that big wave of a contraction

is so important to help your body stay relaxed,

to be giving your baby oxygen,

and to be giving your body oxygen.,

and if you don't know how to do that,

you should definitely check out this video

on how to learn how to breathe through those contractions.

Now once you've reached the last part of labor,

your waves of contractions have helped draw your uterus up

and now begins to push down on baby.

These ways are going to be pretty much impossible to resist.

So it's important that you just ride them out.

At this point,

you've gotten used to the feeling of those contractions

and you may start focusing on a new sensation,

like the ring of fire or extreme rectal pressure.

If you're not quite sure what I'm talking about,

check out this video about transition,

the ring of fire and the pushing stage of labor.

And as you enter this stage,

you really want to listen to your body

and follow the waves and those sensations.

What do I mean by this in practical labor language?

I mean follow your urge to push,

and as you're pushing, you want to breathe through it,

because just like before,

holding your breath might work for a little while,

but it's ultimately going to lead you

with not enough oxygen for you and your baby,

and make you feel more fatigued in your muscles.

When you feel the urge to push,

you want to take in a deep breath and breathe down your air.

I'm going to be doing a whole video

about breathing down your air

while you're pushing your baby out,

so make sure you are on the lookout for that video,

but for now, just focus on breathing in

that really great oxygen

while you're pushing your baby out

as you feel that wave pushing through your body.

At the end of it all mama,

those waves are contractions have helped you

bring your baby into the world.

Contractions are powerful and strong, but mama, so are you.

And they are so important to help bring your baby

from womb to world.

So welcome those waves mama.

I hope this video has helped you fill in

a few of the blanks about what to expect with birth,

especially regarding contractions.

Obviously, you can't fully know

until you experience it for yourself,

but know this mama,

you are an amazing mama capable of doing hard things

and deserving of a birth where you can trust

your body and your baby.

So thanks for being with me in this video, mama,

and I will see you in the next one, bye.