Yes, they are painful but Hollywood has frightened us into fearing contractions and labor rather than focusing on the end result – your beautiful baby – and the fact that you will, do not fret, overcome the contractions with grace.

Get Started

Before true contractions, women often experience Braxton Hicks contractions – or false ones – confusing them for real ones but, according to Baby Centre, the difference between the two is simple:

Braxton Hicks are infrequent, and usually happen no more than once or twice an hour, a few times a day; Often stop if you change activity; Are usually irregular; Don’t last long, usually less than a minute; Continue to be unpredictable and non-rhythmic; and Don’t increase in intensity.

During real contractions, there is a tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscle, the largest muscle in a woman’s body, and the abdomen become very hard as it helps the baby get into position for labor. But between each wave-like movement, the uterus relaxes and the stomach becomes soft again.

While each woman will experience this process differently, overall, contractions usually feel like aggressive (read: very aggressive) menstrual cramps and they cause a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen coupled with significant pressure on the pelvis.

How to Mitigate the Pain?

One small hiccup in figuring out how to mitigate the pain is that you cannot predict what will or will not work for you. Nevertheless, there are a number of points of reference that can help either alone or in combination.

  • Breathing

Women are often told that breathing is the path to their contraction and as such, they can alleviate their pain by focused breathing. With breathing come noises that are, inevitably since you are managing a tremendous amount of pain, odd and even aggressive.

What do I mean by aggressive? At times you might find it challenging to control your structured breathing-chanting and this can turn into moaning or even animal-like screams of rage. Don’t worry, this is normal and Lamaze, a school of training to prepare parents for labor, speaks to great length about how to give birth with confidence.

  • Moving Around.

Women are often able to distract themselves and as such, alleviate a degree of pain, by moving around, taking a walk with their partner, gently dancing or swaying. What worked for me was a series of eight yoga poses.

One of my favorite poses is the cat/cow pose but please, do refer to the above link because not all poses are appropriate for a pregnant woman. Another option for moving around gently is by using a birthing ball, an option I found to be extremely soothing.

Yoga-Poses-For-Pregnancy-Cat-CowLet’s be frank, a massage is not going to erase the pain like a magic wand, however, having your partner massage your temples, lower back or feet can be extremely soothing, relaxing and comforting emotionally, which, in turn helps you work through the pain associated with contractions.

  • Water

Often referred to as a source of healing or energy, water is concerned to have different medicinal and curative properties around the globe. Nevertheless, one would be hard-pressed to deny that having water cascade and massage your shoulders in a shower, or luxuriating in a hot spring or mineral bath, cannot do wonders for your mental and physical state.

Personally, I do not particularly enjoy baths but instinctively find myself drawing a bath once a month when my painful menstrual cramps compel me to seek holistic treatments. In this light, taking a shower or bath (note: too warm of a bath is not recommended by doctors because it can slow down the birthing process) to counter the pain of contractions can be psychologically calming and in turn, physically alleviating.

  • Epidural

This anesthesia is injected into your lower spine and is the most popular method of pain relief during labor. Keep in mind that over 50% of women chose this option but there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to consider before choosing this option. You can read about them here.

Above all, do not despair!

Different Types of Contractions

One needs to distinguish between early and active labor. In early labor the contractions are short and about 5-7 minutes apart whereas in active labor, they lengthen to 1 minute and are 3-5 minutes apart.

Finally, in transition (the part of labor just before pushing), they are about 90 seconds long, 2-3 minutes apart and at this point, the intensity of contractions can be tremendous. Web MD has a wonderfully illustrative chart which demonstrates how you can differentiate between the different types and know if you should go to the hospital.

Contraction Characteristics False Labor True Labor
How often do the contractions occur? Contractions are often irregular and do not get closer together. Contractions come at regular intervals and last about 30-70 seconds. As time progresses, they get closer together.
Do they change with movement? Contractions may stop when you walk or rest, or may even stop if you change positions. Contractions continue despite movement or changing positions.
How strong are they? Contractions are usually weak and do not get much stronger. Or they may be strong at first and then get weaker. Contractions steadily increase in strength.
Where do you feel the pain? Contractions are usually only felt in the front of the abdomen or pelvic region. Contractions usually start in the lower back and move to the front of the abdomen.

Prepare in Advance

Many women choose to create a birth plan during their pregnancy, knowing that once they are in labor it will be more challenging for them to make decisions regarding how they choose to give birth.

For example, a friend wished to have her doula accompany her through the process in a room that was lighted with hundreds of candles, whereas another friend wanted her doctor and a waiting epidural! The point is that we each have a choice and the more research we conduct, the better prepared we are emotionally and physically.

Congratulations, your baby is soon here!