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What do contractions feel like?

If you want to know what contractions feel like I highly suggest asking a man what it feels like to be kicked in the testicles. Apparently it’s quite similar but is a million times worse*, so you can get an idea of the pain that you’re about to experience based on their experience.

*Based on a survey of all men ever.

I’m kidding….about the comparison part. Can you tell I’m a little bitter about the “getting kicked in the testicles is as painful as childbirth” debate? Ugh.

I digress. Back to what contractions feel like.

There are a lot of variables that will dictate how your contractions will feel. We’ll go over them in this post so that you can get a sense of what you can expect to feel throughout the stages of your labor.

What do contractions feel like?

It's normal and understandable to want to know what contractions feel like. These factors will contribute to what contractions feel like for you.

What stage of labor are you in?

In the beginning stages of your labor, you may feel tightening in your stomach. In fact, you might be like “am I about to have a baby, or am I going to have diarrhea….?”. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you’re like “oh, no, definitely having a baby” because a) the pain will become stronger and more consistently spaced out, and b) you probably won’t have diarrhea.

As you progress in your labor you’ll notice that your contractions are different:

Prelabor– There is no real measure for this. The length and intensity range greatly.

Stage 1 (Latent phase)- These contractions are usually short (between 30 seconds to 1 minute) and are spaced anywhere from 5-20 minutes apart. At this point, things like music or a card game might easily distract you from the discomfort.

Active phase- This is when you begin to see some consistency. These contractions will become stronger, will last about a minute, and are spaced relatively evenly apart.

Transition- This is when you might begin to say curse words that you never even thought possible. Your contractions will last anywhere from 1-1.5 minutes and occur around every two minutes. This is when things become intense and you have very little time for rest.

Stage 2 (pushing)– Your contractions become less of the focus here. Your baby is moving down your birth canal and you now have significant pressure in your pelvis. You will feel contractions around every 3 minutes, and they will be intense. However, the “ring of fire” will become your new fixation.

Stage 3 (placenta delivery)– The contractions will be over, however, you may feel some strong cramping as you begin to deliver your placenta and receive your complimentary fundal massage.

Stage 4 (Recovery)– This is one of those things that no one tells you about; the after cramps.


You may not experience them much with your first, but by the time you get to your third and fourth kid you’ll think you’re in labor again.

Are you on pain medications?

There are options for pain relief when it comes to your labor.

There are some, such as nitrous oxide, that will dull the pain a bit, or there’s an epidural that will take the pain away almost entirely.

These are measures that you’ll need to look into before you go into labor so that you’re educated on your options. You don’t have to necessarily say “yay” or “nay” to any one before you go into labor as you typically are able to go with the flow. However, there is a time frame for some things, such as an epidural.

If you’re finding that the contractions feel like they’re becoming unbearable make sure that you talk to your healthcare provider so that you can work together to find pain relief measures that work for you.

What other pain reliefs are you utilizing?

Many folks find ways other than pain medications to reduce the pain that they feel from their contractions.

Things such as breathing, birth affirmations, birthing balls, and hypnobirthing, and more can help with pain management.

How high is your pain tolerance?

Let’s face it. Some of us have a lower pain tolerance than others.

Some folks can walk on a broken leg while others break down at a scratch.

If you’re someone with a low pain tolerance you may find that your contractions feel like they’re harder to cope with than someone who has a higher pain tolerance.

Now you’ve read this and you’re like “this lady didn’t answer my damn question.”

The things is that when it comes to what your contractions will feel like it’s really hard to say for each individual. There will be times in your labor where your contractions will feel like labor isn’t so bad after all, and there will be times where you’re going to wonder if you can keep going (you can).

If you’re trying to figure out an exact measurement of pain I cannot give it to you, but I can say that your contractions will hurt. Fortunately, we live in an age of loads of research on natural pain relief as well as a variety of pain relief medications. Spend some time during your pregnancy to figure out how you will cope with your contractions in a way that works for you!

Have you been in labor before? How would you describe what contractions feel like?

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