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Answer To a New Mom's FAQ: What Do Real Contractions Feel Like?

Contractions! The mysterious, kinda-scary, kinda-exciting sensation you’re waiting for at the end of your pregnancy—the sensations that could mean you’re in labor and will be meeting your baby soon.

For some women, it’s thrilling to experience, that first telltale throb that baby’s on the way. For other women, the very concept of contractions and telling the difference between Braxton Hicks and labor contractions can bring on a sense of panic. If you’ve never given birth before, it’s easy to feel intimidated or even anxious about the thought of going into labor and experiencing all the sensations that come with labor contractions.

What’s normal? What’s not? And what, in all honesty, do they really feel like?

what do contractions feel like?

Real Women Explain: What Do Contractions Feel Like?

Did you know that there are at least six different types of contractions? If you want to learn more about each type, start HERE.

We polled a few women to hear, in their own words, what different types of contractions feel like, from good old mild Braxton Hicks right up until those rumored “ring of fire” pushing contractions. Here’s what they told us:


Braxton Hicks Contractions

“For me, Braxton Hicks felt like tightening. They would never be so close that I noticed them together.”—Erica

“Tightening, like my uterus turning into a rock.”—Natalie

“Like my uterus was the outside of a really tight yoga ball.”—Debbie

“Tight. Not painful, but I could definitely feel where my uterus was and how big it was!”—Sarah


Early Labor Contractions

“Early contractions felt like period cramps, a dull aching pain in the middle lower back/sacrum region.”—Serena

“They started like gentle compressions on my lower abdomen and back.”—Anna

“My contractions felt like a really intense cramp from my chest to my knees.”—Penny

“They felt like a gentle tightening like a minor period cramp. I could easily talk and move through them. Knowing what was coming, though, I felt I had to keep reminding myself not to tense the rest of my body along with them and just relax and let them happen. I feel like this approach helped me have a quicker delivery.”—Samantha


Active Labor Contractions

“Mine felt like my uterus was doing a squat.”—Erica

“My later contractions were intense lower back aches accompanied by a deep aching pressure in my pelvis.” —Anna

“Active labor contractions felt like an intense squeezing and then release.”—Serena

“Mine felt like a really intense wave washing over me, except for when she turned sunny-side up  and it just felt like my pelvis was going to split in half.” —Jocelyn

“For me, they were sort of like very intense diarrhea cramps. Fiery ones.” —Gabby

“Hard-hitting, intense tightening that I didn’t just feel in my abdomen. During active labor my whole body felt wracked by the contractions. I couldn’t focus on anything other than breathing and trying to stay open and relaxed so that they could work their magic.”—Samantha

“Like my insides were Cirque performers, lots of contortions.”—Sai’yda

“Waves! It really felt like huge, overwhelming tidal waves and incredibly, I was fine in between them.”—Sarah


Transition Contractions

“Like Thor was squeezing my uterus with his bare hands.”—Sai’yda

“This is real, don’t talk to me, don’t touch me.”—Erica

“Transition felt like a blissful and hellish interlude where I remember clearly thinking that I was going to die and I asked God and the universe to make sure the baby would survive. Once I got through that moment of negotiation it felt like I was ready to push.”—Sarah


Pushing Contractions

“Tremendous pressure, a force like no other, that couldn’t be fought or avoided. My pushing contractions almost completely worked my baby out on their own. I just had to give a gentle push for his head and one for the rest of his body to be out.”—Samantha

“Like I had to take a never ending poop.”—Sai’yda

“It felt like my butthole was going to turn itself inside-out and my butt would be on the outside of my body for ever and ever more.”—Debbie

“I was so focused that I don’t recall feeling pain even though I know I was in pain. I do remember how strong and fierce I felt while pushing, like I could lift a bus or flip a building, it was wild!”—Sarah


Contractions can be a thrilling experience…that first telltale throb that baby’s on the way.


Everyone is different—and that’s normal

As you can see, there are a few common themes you may have heard before— contractions feeling like menstrual cramps, waves, or pressure. And, of course, that they’re intense! But you probably already knew that part.  

Still, the specific way your body experiences contractions will be individual to you and not everyone will have the same answer to the “what do contractions feel like?” question. They may be strong and overwhelming from the start, or mild and easy to cope right until baby is crowning. Everyone is different—and that’s normal. Remember, too, that contractions don’t last forever. They are merely the means to an end—your baby’s birth!—and you’ll make it there.  

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About Carrie

Carrie Murphy is a certified birth doula and freelance writer living in New Mexico. She has an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from New Mexico State University and is the author of two books of poetry.


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