What Do Contractions Feel Like

During pregnancy, you might feel contractions or cramps at several times that may leave you wondering, "Is this it? Am I going into labour?" It can be difficult at times to understand these contractions. So, we have curated something for you to help understand how do contractions feel when they first start, the different types of contractions, and what contractions are a part of the early stages of labour. You'll also find some tips below to manage the pain and know when to contact your doctor. Read on!

What Are the Different Types for Contractions?

You might hear these terms used for different types of contractions. Here's a brief rundown of what they mean:

  • Braxton Hicks contractions:

Contractions that come and go, and don't result in you actually going into labour, are called Braxton Hicks contractions. You might also hear them referred to as false contractions or practice contractions.

  • True labour contractions:

These are the kind that don't go away and end with the birth of your baby. They are also called real labour contractions.

Preterm contractions:

If you experience true labour contractions before your pregnancy is full term, these can be called preterm contractions. The word preterm is used when labour starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy. If you experience any of the signs of preterm labour, or if you're in any doubt at all about what you're feeling, contact your doctor for an assessment.

How Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

Braxton Hicks contractions can feel like very mild cramps or more intense pains. The pain of Braxton Hicks is usually felt at the front of the abdomen, and the intensity of these contractions may ebb and flow — for example, they could feel weaker, then stronger, then weaker again. As your due date nears, you might find that they feel stronger than they did earlier on in the second or third trimesters.

Practice contractions are normal and expected — they’re your body’s way of getting ready for what’s to come. They are more likely to occur toward the end of the day, after physical exertion, or after sex. If this isn’t your first pregnancy, you may find that Braxton Hicks contractions start a little earlier in the pregnancy than they did before.

To relieve the pain or discomfort of Braxton Hicks contractions, try walking around or changing positions. Resting may also help make them go away. Staying hydrated helps make Braxton Hicks contractions less likely to occur, so keep drinking plenty of water.

If you’re unsure about whether you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions or true labour contractions, contact your doctor for advice.

What Do Real Labour Contractions Feel Like?

It’s difficult to predict or describe what real labour contractions will feel like for you. This is partly because everyone’s experience of pain is different. For you, early contractions may feel quite painless or mild, or they may feel very strong and intense. The pain you feel can also differ from one pregnancy to the next, so if you’ve been in labour before you might experience something quite different this time around. When in labour, contractions feel like a pain or pressure that starts in the back and moves to the front of your lower abdomen. Unlike the ebb and flow of Braxton Hicks, true labour contractions feel steadily more intense over time. During true labour contractions your belly will tighten and feel very hard. Some moms-to-be liken these contractions to menstrual cramps.

Unlike Braxton Hicks, true labour contractions come at regular intervals and get closer together in time. That’s why it can help to time your contractions with our handy contractions tracking chart. Look out for other early signs of labour too, like your water breaking.

Still have doubts about what do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like or true labour contractions feel like? If you're unsure about what you’re experiencing, always check with your doctor. She will likely ask you some questions, and then advise you to either stay home and relax, to head into the doctor’s office for a check-up, or to grab your hospital bag and get to the hospital for the birth of your baby.

Pain Management

To help manage the labour pain, you could try:

  • Going for a walk

  • Napping

  • Having a shower or warm bath

  • Doing some of the relaxation techniques you may have learned at childbirth classes.

As your labour progresses, contractions can feel more painful, and you may also experience pressure in your lower back and rectum. It is a good idea to discuss options for comfort measures during labour with your doctor ahead of time. For example, some moms-to-be choose pain medication like an epidural and others opt for non-medicated relief — or a combination of both. Pain management is a very personal process and choice; you might even change your mind about what you’d like as your labour progresses. Keep an open mind and have a discussion with your gynaecologist about what you might like to have and what’s available to you. What’s your take? Take our quiz on labour pain relief to tell us more!


Everyone experiences pain differently, but some moms-to-be say labour contractions can feel like menstrual cramps.

It's normal to feel nervous about contractions' pain and whether you would know if the labour has really begun. Keep in mind, your doctor will help you understand when it's time and the next steps to be taken. Although painful and uncomfortable, Braxton Hicks contractions help your body prepare for labour while true labour contractions help dilate, soften and thin out (called effacement) your cervix and push your baby further down into your pelvis. You've got this! Everything will be worth it in the end as you hold your newborn in your arms!

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