labor contractions

What Do Labor Contractions Really Feel like?

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When I was pregnant I spent so much time wondering what a labor contraction felt like. How painful where labor contractions? How would I know I was experiencing a real labor contraction? Does everyone’s contractions feel the same?

My pregnancy was consumed by such overwhelming happiness but also paralyzing fear for what was to come as my body tried to evict it’s tenant after nine months. As a mom – to – be who was seriously considering trying to have a natural birth, I couldn’t stop wondering what the heck my labor and contractions would feel like.

Getting the facts

For me, getting as much information about childbirth eased my fears and helped me to relax. So mama, if you are here and afraid of your labor contractions, breathe out that sigh of relief now.

This article will tell you all about what contractions are, how they work and what contractions actually felt like for other moms!

So what are labor contractions exactly?

Contractions are what move your baby out of your uterus, down through the birth cannal and out of your body (with your assistance in pushing). Basically it is the uterus muscles tightening and relaxing in a rhythmic way. Unfortunately, unless you have a scheduled c-section, contractions are a necessary experience to birth your baby.

Did you know you have felt contractions before even if you haven’t been in labor?

So as a first time mom I was totally terrified about experiencing the pain of labor. I had heard many horror stories from other women about just how awful the pain was for them. These stories were really just not helpful at easing my mind. By the time I was 37 weeks pregnant I felt paralyzed by my fear of child birth.

Well mama I am here to let you in on a little secret, you have experienced contractions already. Yup, that’s right, you already know what a contraction feels like.

Examples of contractions

Have you ever done a sit up or lifted a heavy object. Your muscles are contracting when you do these things. That pain that is felt when you exercise your muscles is from the muscle working, or contracting. So imagine that, but in your uterus.

Another example of a contraction is your menstrual cramps. Yup that nasty pain you were feeling in your abdomen monthly – if you can remember since it’s probably been a while – those little buggers are contractions too!

labor contractions

Different types of contractions

When most women think of contractions they only thing about the ones necessary to birth their baby, but did you know there are other types of contractions you might experience?

Practice Contractions

Before labor, your body will practice for the big day. Kind of like how a runner prepares for a marathon. You wouldn’t just lace up your runners and then do a triathlon would you? No, you would practice first, and your body will do just that!

These practice contractions are known as Braxton hicks, prodromal labor, or false labor. These contractions will not lead to your baby being born. They will also vary in intensity and you might not even realize that you are experiencing them or you might confuse them with real labour.

Check out this article on HOW TO KNOW IF YOU ARE IN LABOR for a more detailed description on practice contractions vs the real deal. Plus there is a free printable you can stick on your fridge to reference!

Real labor Contractions

So this is what you came here for right? To learn all about these bad boys that will lead to the birth of your sweet bundle of joy. Real labor contractions are no joke, but they too vary in intensity because there are several different stages of labor.

As you progress through each of the stages of labor your contractions will become more intense, last longer, and be more regular. This will continue until your baby is born and the placenta is delivered.

What do labor contractions feel like?

Okay, let’s get into the nitty gritty here. What do contractions actually feel like? Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry answer here, as every women will experience a different labor, may or may not have medications and pain tolerances differ. With that said, I have asked many other women what they experienced to give you an idea of what you might feel during your contractions.

What my contractions felt like

My labor was quite strange because after my water broke it was a while until my contractions began. We tried for a hotel birth (not a typo) and ended up delivering in the hospital.

Now I have terrible pain tolerance, seriously I am a total baby and a complainer, but oddly enough, I didn’t find my contractions to be that bad.

For me they started pretty weak, I wasn’t even sure if it was a contraction, it was more of a dull ache at the top of my stomach. I was actually questioning if maybe I ate something that was giving me more of a stomach ache. But since my water had broke I was pretty sure it was a contraction.

After a few hours of that, my contractions started to become like moderate period cramps. They would start at the top of my stomach and feel like they were squeezing down until they reached below my belly button. At this point I was still walking, cleaning and organizing the house since my water had broken so I knew that my baby would be coming soon. If only I had known I would be dealing with a 31 hour labor, I probably should have taken a nap!

Shortly after that my contractions became painful enough that they were interrupting my ability to move and talk. I had to actually completely stop what I was doing and focus on breathing. I literally just kept counting slowly in my head. Somehow counting gave me something else to focus on and actually eased the pain.

Once I hit about 8cm the pain was intense. The contractions were my entire stomach and radiating down to my thighs. I could no longer think or focus on anything but the pain when these were going on. Frankly, it was the worst pain I ever felt but I still felt that I could handle more. I got an epidural shortly after this at the recommendation of my midwife and OBGYN.

You can read more about MY 31 HOUR BIRTH STORY for more details.

How other moms describe their contractions

They felt like the worst best thing ever. The pain was numbing and I felt like I needed the loo (number 2). It was a 4 day labour saga. Turned out to be worth all that pain in the end.

Nthabiseng from Ntha Today

With my first-born, my contractions lasted for over 12 hours. I was induced at 9 pm, but the contractions didn’t start until a few hours in. I had my baby at 4.45 pm the next day. The contractions felt like intense pressure on my back and lower abdomen which came and went in waves. They became more intense as time went by and I eventually opted to have some pain medication. With my second, the contractions only lasted for about 6 hours but I had an epidural quite early so I just felt a little pressure but not much pain.

Debbie from Mother & Baby Love

It was almost a year ago when I was giving birth to my twin boys but I remember the contractions like yesterday. This was my first pregnancy and I was completely caught off guard by the pain of the contractions. It felt like a thousand needles piercing my core along with pressure and tightness. It would begin in the center of my belly (where my bellybutton is) and would radiate outwards. It was as if traditional tattooing and earthquakes had replaced my abdomen. It was quite painful and managed to consistently take my breath away.

Alaia from Being Alaia

At 9:00pm Thursday, I felt the first contraction. It was such a niggling feeling that my immediate thought was, oh here we go again, another episode of Braxton Hicks. Within a few hours the pain progressed and was a little bit more painful than menstrual cramps- uncomfortable, but still manageable. Despite thinking that I had a low tolerance for pain, I was able to withstand the periodic jolts above my pelvis until about 2:00pm, which was when each contraction caused tears to run down my cheek. I felt stinging sensations as if my stomach was being run over by a truck… perhaps a truck is a little dramatic, but, after 17 hours, breathing through each contraction was no longer helpful in distracting me from the intense pain. EPIDURAL PLEASE.

Daynia from MommySlay!

I had back labor, so all of my contractions were centered around my lower spine. They started just feeling like pressure, or even like I was bloated. As they progressed, it would feel like someone was tightening their grip around my spine during every contraction. Because I had back labor, I couldn’t sit or lay down comfortably. I stood and leaned over and on to a chair or table. The contractions came in waves until right before pushing, when the next contraction would start before the first even finished. Contractions for me were never what I’d call painful. I was able to go through the entire labor unmedicated. Yes, they were uncomfortable, but it wasn’t pain the way stubbing you’re toe is pain.

Ainsley from Momma McGovern

I began having early labor contractions around 37.5 weeks with my 2nd pregnancy. They started off as mild period-like cramping in my low abdomen. Sometimes, the more intense contractions would also be paired with a strong feeling of belly tightening all together! Because I had a preruptured membrane (amniotic sac) I ended up having to be induced with Pitocin and those active labor contractions were SO strong! They felt like my belly would tighten into a rock paired with intense sharp pain in my abdomen that would sometimes radiate into my low back. Once I was having active labor contractions, they were coming a lot closer together every 1-2 minutes in a very obvious pattern!

Karissa Whitman From FitMommyStrong

Contractions, for me, was a very scary thought and word for a long time. I remember with my first baby, the thought was terrifying but at the same time, I didn’t really know what to expect so I just winged it. By the time I had my fourth baby, heading into labor, and the contractions itself still scared the crap out of me. I’d get anxiety about it and worry about it being too much. When I was in labor with my fourth baby, I was induced (I was actually induced with all four of my babies and did not have an epidural with my fourth- I actually tried an epidural for my first three births but they did not work at ALL and failed every single time…but that’s another story!) and my contractions were very well managed. They started small, light. They started manageable. I was able to breathe through each and every one of them, even when they got worse. When they got worse, I made sure my breathing was on track because that really helped. For three of my pregnancies I was in the bed the entire time…but for my fourth baby I was actually up, walking (very slowly) and swaying/leaning on my husband/standing. It was hard. But it felt way better than sitting down. By the time I was ready to finally get back in my bed, it was time to push! All in all, my contractions were manageable, they were gradual. It wasn’t as near as bad as I made it out to be in my head, even after going through it three times prior and it was actually my best birth yet! I’m pregnant with my 5th baby and I am going to do my best to remind myself of those things, and the tricks and tips I’ve learned from my previous births.

Pamela from Honey In The Valley

As you can see, Labor Contractions feel different for everyone!

Even though most women experience pain through their labor contractions, we all make it through it.

I used to roll my eyes at people when they would tell me I would forget about the pain or no longer care about it the second I met my baby. You know what though? They were totally right. I didn’t care what my contractions felt like. The pain was suddenly just gone as soon as my baby was born.

Congratulations on your pregnancy and good luck with your labor!

Have you given birth before? What did your contractions feel like? I would love to hear from you in the comments!


  • I’m currently pregnant with my second child and remember those contractions with the first. Mine felt like sharp radiating pains and they were just uncomfortable. I don’t know what they’ll be like this time since every pregnancy is different, im just looking forward to meeting our baby boy.

  • I remember when my contractions started, they were like period cramps. I thought “this is not a big deal, I’ve got this”. By the time I got to eight dilation, I couldn’t speak.

  • Oh I remember what contractions felt like. My mind wont totally let me “relive” the pain but I know after having 3 that I am done. Thank you for sharing this information.

  • Mine started at 22 weeks and I was terrified. It was a twin pregnancy and everyone had already got me super nervous. The pain was unbearable and I ran to the emergency. Was put on bed rest after that. But at 36 weeks when i went in for a check up, i was already in labor and did not feel a thing.

  • I remember when my contractions first started I thought ‘this is a piece of cake!’ … 27 hours later NOT feeling the same way haha!

  • This is really so helpful. Who knows what something feels like if they have never experienced it. I remember I was like, is this it? or is this it? My husband started to get so annoyed.

  • I was terrified of of the impending pain but ended up with an emergency c-section. I plan on a epidural second time round.

  • I spent so much time googling what real contractions felt like with my first baby, and I even did that some but less with my second. Yet I still doubted the real ones when they started until they were strong enough to stop me in my tracks. They didnt hurt, but I couldnt walk when I had one.

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