Contractions. For a majority of women contractions are an inevitable part of childbirth. It does not matter if you plan an un-medicated or medicated birth, at some point you will likely feel a contraction. More likely, you will feel many contractions! Getting to know the details about contractions is a great way to help you prepare for the arrival of your baby.
What do contractions feel like?
Contractions can feel like many different things. Some women experience low back discomfort. This is often thought to be due to the positioning of the baby. There are actually movements that can help ease low back discomfort, and the use of counter-pressure by your partner and/or doula can also be helpful. Having a doula available to guide you through these movements and positions is a wonderful tool for back labor. A doula can also teach your partner counter pressure or apply the counter pressure to you as you labor.
Other women never experience back labor but feel a sensation akin to a menstrual cramp. The sensation can start milk, like in the beginning of your period, and increase throughout labor turning into cramps from your worst period times ten. (Just being honest with you!) The great thing is you have options to help with this discomfort. Deep, slow, relaxing breathing can be a big asset to managing pain during labor. Practice deep breathing prior to your birth. Focus breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth. Again, movement and position changes help with the discomfort of low period type contractions, and a doula is knowledgeable on so many options for position changes to help you manage the sensations that labor and delivery inevitably bring.
Sometimes contractions feel like a tightening of the stomach. It starts as an odd feeling–not really painful just odd, is how many of our clients describe it. It is enough to get your attention but not enough to make you stop what you are doing. This eventually picks up in intensity and often starts to feel lower as well.
Finally, some women feel sensations in their vagina. These are often described as a tightening, pulling or pressure feeling. The best thing you can do for this type of sensation is movement combined with good cleansing inhales and exhales.
How are contractions timed?
You may have heard someone reference 4-1-1 or 5-1-1. This means contractions are four minutes apart, lasting for 1 full minute each, and the pattern remains consistent for a full hour. The duration of the contraction is the length of time it is from start to finish. This can be 30 seconds in the beginning and range up to two minutes, but it averages about one minute. The frequency of the contraction is how often contractions are happening. This is timed from the start of the first contraction to the start of the second contraction! For example: the contraction begins and lasts 1 minute, then you have 3 minutes with no contractions, then another starts and lasts 1 minute. You are currently on a 4-1-1 pattern. If you are planning a hospital or birth center birth, you probably need to get in the car soon! If you are planning a homebirth you need to be in touch with your midwifery team.
There are some really amazing apps for timing contractions. We like Full Term Labor Contraction Timer. It also has some other nice features like a kick counter. We also like Contraction Timer which offers an Apple Watch app if you wear one of those!
In the end, we want you to enjoy your birth, relax through each contraction as much as possible, and remember to breathe!