What Contractions Really Feel Like


My biggest question when I was pregnant for the first time was, “What do contractions feel like?” I asked friends who’d given birth, and mostly the answer I heard was that a contraction feels like a bad period cramp. “Huh, that doesn’t sound so bad,” I thought.

After having three babies, I can tell you that this description of labor pain isn’t exactly accurate. So I’m here to tell you what it really feels like.

For me, early labor did resemble intense menstrual cramps. The sensation is uncomfortable, verging on painful, but manageable. I felt the dull ache at the bottom of my abdomen, just like cramps. Then as my labor progressed, the pain intensified. Goodbye, period cramps; hello, sensation resembling my internal organs tightening and squeezing as if my insides were a towel being wrung out.

Luckily, there were breaks in the pain to rest. And until I was dilated to about 7 centimeters, I could still function during the breaks. I was able to talk to my husband, doctor and nurses. I felt I could handle what was happening to my body.

But eventually that sense of control disappeared, and my body took over. The stabbing pain was radiating from my lower abdomen to my back, and well, it seemed like everywhere. Breaks between contractions were shorter. The experience isn’t like anything else I’d felt before. I won’t lie; it was intense, more so than I expected. It was hard to find a comfortable position to ride out the pain. I recall wanting to crawl out of my body for relief.

The good news is that this phase doesn’t last forever. Soon your baby is born, and trust me (no, really trust me) you will look past the pain and bask in the joy of your baby’s arrival. Or, you can get an epidural or employ other methods to make giving birth easier and skip some of the discomfort.

Of course, the pains of labor feel different for every woman. One mommy friend of mine agreed with my towel analogy. Another mom I know described her contractions as short, intense cramps that stopped her in her tracks.

Then there’s back labor, which another mom told me can feel like back spasms or extreme pressure, almost like you need to use the bathroom.

The point of these descriptions is not to scare you if you are about to give birth. I hope to empower and prepare you for the most amazing experience of your life. Labor is challenging, no doubt, but the pain is 100 percent worth it. You can be sure the little face of your darling baby will dispel any notion to the contrary.