This is one of the top questions I get asked as an antenatal teacher. And it’s a really important question!
If we take the time to learn about contractions during our pregnancy they suddenly don’t seem so scary. This helps us get into the right mindset for a positive birth. So I’ll do my best to share my insights here.
What do Contractions in Early Labour feel like?
Contractions feel a little different for everyone, but generally, you will feel them as a steady increase in intensity or pressure in your abdomen and/or lower back that comes and goes in waves.
In early labour they may feel a bit like period cramps or a dull backache, lasting a few seconds and then recurring every few minutes. This is a great time to practice your breathing and relaxation techniques and find your own rhythm in labour. You can also use clever tools such as a tens machine or an acupressure comb to to see what works best for you.
As your labour advances, the intensity, frequency and duration of each contraction increases as the muscles of your uterus work hard to bring your baby to you.
What do Contractions in Active Labour feel like?
Each contraction steadily builds in intensity up to a powerful peak and then gradually fades away, like a bell curve or a wave in the sea. This is why Hypnobirthing women often call contractions “surges”.
Contractions last for about 45-60 seconds during active labour. The intensity will be higher now and you will need to focus more inwards on your body during each wave. The brilliant design of our bodies means you will have a couple of minutes rest in between each contraction to allow you to rest and get ready for the next one. Yes your body is doing it’s own very special HIIT workout!!
If we use the visual of each contraction as a powerful wave, a great technique is to imagine you’re surfing that wave!
- For the first 20-30 seconds focus on breathing deeply and slowly as the intensity builds. This ensures lots of nourishing oxygen is getting into your blood to fuel the muscles of your uterus.
- When the wave is at its peak, marvel in how amazing and powerful your body is as it brings your baby to you.
- Continue to breathe deeply as the surge gently melts away, knowing that it gets easier once you’re past the peak.
- As the surge finishes, tell yourself well done! Each and every contraction brings you one step closer to meeting your baby!
How painful are contractions?
Contractions feel powerful, intense, sensational, crazy, strong, mind-blowing, unstoppable, all-consuming…but I wouldn’t use the word “painful”.
Pain is pathological. It is a signal your body sends to say something is not right and needs to change in order to protect you. If you put your hand too close to a flame, it will hurt, telling you to remove your hand before it gets burnt.
Birth on the other hand is a normal physiological process. If labour is progressing as it should, there is no reason for your body to tell you to stop - that baby needs to be born!! Unfortunately, many modern practices in childbirth are not conducive to the way your body is designed to labour. For example, being made to labour on your back, being thrust under bright lights, having multiple vaginal examinations, labour augmentation drips, being told you’re “failing to progress”…
So if you find it is hurting, this is often your body’s signal that something needs to change: change position, get up and walk around, sway your hips, ensure your birth partner knows how to help you relax and create an optimal birthing environment wherever you are, make informed decisions that are best for you and your baby, ensure your voice is being heard…
Many women do have pain-free births (myself included!) However I would never say that my Hypnobirthing courses can guarantee you a pain-free birth. You are moving a whole new human being through your body so of course that is going to feel intense and challenging! However, once you know that contractions are simply our uterus muscles working hard, not something scary and uncontrollable, you can accept and even enjoy the powerful sensations that you will feel during labour and birth.
Contractions are your friend!
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is to welcome your contractions. Strong powerful contractions will bring your baby to you quicker. The stronger they are, the better! So as you feel a contraction start to come, don’t shrink away from it, don’t fear it.
Instead, welcome the contraction with a smile, marvel in how powerful and strong and AMAZING your body is for bringing your baby to you. Relax, breathe, keep smiling.
Every contraction brings me closer to meeting my baby.
To find out more about how Hypnobirthing can help you have a positive birth, take a look at my Group antenatal courses in South East London & Kent, or my Private Hypnobirthing online classes, available worldwide.