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Pregnancy Contractions and Signs of Labor


All moms, particularly first-time mothers, feel anxious when the delivery date approaches. It is common to have such feelings about labour.

The body sends indications that delivery is soon approaching through regular contractions. However, pregnant women should be aware of false contractions and be well informed about the nature of the same to avoid unnecessary hospital trips. 

This blog delves deep into the various types of contractions, how they feel, and when to go to the hospital. 

What are contractions, and why does one get them? 

Contractions refer to the tightening and releasing of the uterus muscles, which aid the baby to move out of the uterus while a mother is in labour. The cervix, which is the opening to the uterus, softens and dilates. This muscle contraction allows the baby to move into the birth canal and position itself for delivery when the cervix sufficiently widens to push the baby out. 

Contractions feel like pressure on the belly that lasts a few seconds to minutes. Women experience contractions with different intensities. But towards the end of the labour, all women experience painful and intense contractions. 

What is a false contraction? 

Almost all pregnant women experience contractions during different phases of their pregnancy and believe they are in labour, but this can also be a false alarm. The English doctor who first characterised false contractions in the 1800s gave them the name Braxton Hicks contractions. They serve as a warm-up for labour, softening and thinning the cervix. 

Even though mothers experience false contractions at any point in their pregnancy, they seem to happen more frequently during the final trimester, which may lead to confusion. Mothers mistakenly believe that they are in labour as a result of how real Braxton Hicks contractions can feel and may rush to the hospital. 

How to differentiate between a false and real contraction? 

Even though it is difficult to differentiate between false and real contractions, there are some ways to know one from the other.  

Real contractions occur at regular intervals, becoming more frequent and severe as time passes. In the beginning, one might experience contractions every ten minutes, then the interval reduces to five minutes, and so on. There is no specific pattern of a Braxton Hicks contraction, and it remains unpredictable. Another sign to observe is the unchanging strength of false contractions. The power of real contractions builds up over time. 

Braxton Hicks contractions typically affect one part of the mother’s abdomen. They may disappear if they stand up, move, alter position, or lie down and relax. But in real contractions, the lower back and the entire abdomen may experience labour pains, irrespective of what the mother does.  

The mother can observe the pattern of contractions, note them down and change positions to confirm whether it is real or fake. Pressure in the lower belly, reddish discharge or rush of water from the vagina are other significant indicators of labour.  

When to see a doctor? 

It is better to contact the healthcare provider if the mother strongly feels that the contractions are real. One can also look for other signs such as bleeding from the vagina, water breaking, a change in the baby’s movement .

What are the stages of pregnancy contractions?

Early Labour 

During early labour, contractions become noticeable, and a pregnant woman may experience tightening that persists for 30 to 90 seconds. These contractions are scheduled and spaced out at regular intervals. The interval between contractions may reduce as the mother approaches active labour. During this time, the water can break, and the cervix starts opening.  

Active Labour 

Contractions are stronger during active labour, and the interval between contractions is reduced. Active labour contractions typically last 45 to 60 seconds, with a three to five-minute break. During this stage, the cervix opens between 4 and 10 centimetres. Each pregnant woman experiences active labour differently.

Other frequent symptoms accompanying contractions in active labour include dizziness, nausea, chills, hot flashes, gas, and vomiting.  

How to handle the pain of pregnancy contractions? 

During active labour, contractions reach the highest level, and several measures help to manage the pain, with and without medication. 

Non-drug pain management techniques such as a hot shower, sitting in a bathtub with hot water, or moving around can alleviate pain. Practising gentle yoga, massage, counter pressure, or meditating may also help. Always engage in activities to avoid thinking about the pain. 


It is challenging to differentiate whether the uterus is actually labouring or rehearsing for the labour during contractions. It is preferable to time the contractions and note any additional symptoms. It may help to clarify any concerns and doubts with the doctor and avoid the chances of preterm labour.

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