Sorry, but there is no universal answer as to what a contraction feels like. The only constant seems to be...
Sorry, but there is no universal answer as to what a contraction feels like. The only constant seems to be that once labor gets going in a term pregnancy, the fact that they're true contractions -- not just Braxton-Hicks -- will be undeniably strong. (See How do Braxton Hicks contractions feel.) When trying to figure out if what you're feeling is an actual labor contraction or not, it may help to visualize what's going on. During a contraction, the pain (people who call it "pressure" instead of "pain" probably had the epidural early on) comes from the uterus working first to open the cervix, and then to push the baby down the birth canal. As labor progresses, contractions gradually become stronger, longer and closer together... and, yes, often harder to deal with. Many women describe their early contractions feeling much like strong menstrual cramps, while others use terms like sharp, intense and miserable. Here are some other ways moms described their contrax:
My early, early contractions felt like menstrual cramping combined with Braxton-Hicks-type tightening. - Lindsey Mine were nowhere near cramps, just intense pain. You will know because they will begin to get stronger, closer and longer. Start timing them and call you doctor when they get close and consistent! - Lisa When I went into labor I thought that I had eaten something bad -- you know the pains you get when your stomach is REALLY upset and you have to keep going to the washroom? They were totally not what I expected, so I wasn't even sure if I was in labor or not until we got to the hospital. - Jaime The ones where I knew I was in labor were the tighting ones, but mostly at the bottom of my belly where I would get menstrual ones. My Braxton-Hicks feel like just an all around tighting of my belly. - Melissa All I can say is that it's definitely cramping, but you know the difference because they're intense and come in waves. I couldn't think about anything but getting through the contraction, and I was holding onto the side of the bed, praying they would check me soon so I could get my epidural. You'll know the difference when it's the real thing -- trust me. They get more and more intense! - Misty When you get a contraction, YOU WILL KNOW. I know everyone says that, but believe me, I recognized the first one I got. It was intense and definitely painful. The second most distinct thing about a contraction is that it is a "wave." It has a definite start and finish to it. Once it is over, you will feel intense relief and wonder, "Was I really just in pain?" Then you will feel another starting and you know it's going to be painful... My contractions were not like my menstrual cramps. They were as if my stomach was being knotted up from inside. - Elisabeth I personally wouldn't describe a contraction as a sharp pain at all. In the early stages, they start out as bad menstrual cramps in your belly and back. Then in the late stages, the only way I can describe it is like 1000 times worse than the worst diarrhea cramps that you've ever had. - leeshalynn My Braxton-Hicks were like tightening, and then the real ones added menstural like cramping to the top of them. The "real ones" also were easy to time: every 6 minutes, every 4 minutes, etc. The Braxton-Hicks were very irregular... 14 minutes, 8 minutes, 20 minutes. - CW Mine start off like period cramps and then spread up my sides and to my back, all the while making my belly hard. but I think we all experience them differently. - Livvah Even if they're somewhat regular, Braxton-Hicks generally don't hold a real good pattern, such as getting closer together and staying that way. But as a BTDT mom times three, I can tell you that Braxton-Hicks can be VERY painful at times. I would have some that I could just barely talk through, BUT .... when it turned into "real" labor, I noticed that the pain far outweighed that tightening sensation and the cramping was also included. It's so hard to explain, but sometimes you just know. It's like a sixth sense sort of thing. - Mary
Back labor can be a little different -- click here to see how some moms described that experience. The power of the contractions generally increases during the course of labor, particularly after your water breaks. Fortunately, for most women, the pain of contractions is never constant -- you should have a bit of time between them to catch your breath. When in doubt, remember the three keys: stronger, longer and closer together. Here are some more articles to help you:

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