Contractions. They’re that one part of the whole miracle of childbirth and motherhood thing that we kind of “push” to the back of our minds until it’s too late to opt out. For first time mums, contractions are an absolute mystery and something that gets either hyped up mentally or downplayed significantly, only to find the end result is nothing like what we imagined.
As painful and long winded as these contractions might be, they are a wonderful function that our body has invented to deliver us our babies, so they can’t be all bad, can they? Some women might beg to differ, and a lucky few will remark at how easy they found the labour experience. It just depends on each woman and how they feel during the main event.
What Is A Contraction?
So, what is a contraction exactly? This wonderful and essential process may be painful for many, but it’s your body’s way of pushing your baby gently down the birth canal ready for birth. As our bodies never want to do anything the easy way, there is more than one type of contraction you can have which might even make it difficult to determine if you’re actually in labour.
- False Labour Contractions – these lovely things are a great way to get you all excited at 3 am only to find they fizzle out and you have to wait for the process to start all over again.
- Practice Contractions – commonly referred to as Braxton Hicks, many women begin to experience these pain-free tightenings from very early on in pregnancy.
- Labour Contractions – these are the real deal and can range from a slight twinge to an extreme pain.
Just as every woman and every pregnancy are different, so too is the way we feel contractions. However, if you surveyed 100 mothers right now you’d probably find that a few common answers come up in regards to what exactly their contractions felt like.
The Period Cramps
If you ask any mother about her experience with contractions, the first answer you’ll usually get is that they felt like period cramps. However, a more accurate representation would be they felt like period cramps on steroids. If there’s one silver lining to this, though, our bodies have been prepping for this since our first period so we’re pretty apt at handling this type of pain.
The Gas Pain
If you’ve ever suffered through a bout of gastro or just had a whole lot of wind that you couldn’t seem to pass, you’ll be familiar with this type of pain. The gas pain contraction is another common response when asking women what theirs felt like, and is usually more of a sharper pain than the dull ache of the period cramp. However, these can be significantly eased by some heat treatment, so look for a heat pack or hot shower to help you out.
Considering such a large percentage of babies are in the posterior position and refuse to budge, there are quite a few mothers who’ve felt this type of contraction in their back. Even if you don’t have a posterior baby, the pressure of your little one moving down the birth canal can make you feel as though you’re carting a bowling ball around in your underwear, and radiate all the way through your back and legs. If you’re feeling the brunt of the pain in your back, kneeling on all fours can be a huge relief for mums.
These can be filed away with the rest of the miracle stories you’d rather not hear about, but some women will testify that they really didn’t feel much of their contractions at all. Some might say there was slight pressure, a twinge, or light cramping, but overall they had a fairly breezy labour. If you happen to be one of these women, you might want to go out and buy yourself a lotto ticket the very next day to cash in on the incredible luck you have.
How To Cope
Coping with contractions is an extremely personal thing, as there’s never going to be one method that works for everyone. The trick is to have a few coping mechanisms up your sleeve and work your way through them to see what helps best with the pain. Some popular coping methods include hypnobirthing, breathing techniques, walking and staying upright, lying in water, and the good old drugs they offer up at the hospital.
The best thing to remember, though, is that when these contractions start to ramp up, it’s usually a sign that your baby is getting closer. If you can keep that thought in your mind, it might help to turn your thinking about these feelings of pain into seeing it as a force that is going to help you deliver your baby. When all else fails, though, your lovely midwife will no doubt have some wonderful pain relief that can work just as well.