What Contractions Feel Like

Many mothers describe contractions that occur in early labor as similar to menstrual cramps, or as severe gas pains, which may be confused with flu symptoms or intestinal disorders. Imagine your contractions as looking like a wave. Each contraction will gradually gain in intensity until the contraction peaks, then slowly subside and go away. As your body does the work of labor, it is likely that the time in between contractions will become shorter.

As the strength of each contraction increases, the peaks will come sooner and last longer. There should be some regularity or pattern when timed. Persistent contractions that have no rhythm but are five-to-seven minutes apart or less should be reported to your physician or midwife.

Try to Visualize Contractions as Positive

Think of each contraction as something positive—it is bringing you that much closer to the birth of your baby. Visualize what the contractions are accomplishing, the thinning and opening of the cervix and the pushing of the baby downward. Try to work with your body rather than against it by staying as relaxed as possible during the contractions. 

Typical Length or Duration

A typical labor for a first time mother is eight-to-fourteen hours, and is usually shorter for a second or subsequent birth. For many women, rocking in a chair or swaying during a contraction assists them with this relaxation.


Contractions are intermittent, with a valuable rest period for you, your baby, and your uterus following each one. When timing contractions, start counting from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. 

The easiest way to time contractions is to write down on paper the time each contraction starts and its duration, or count the seconds the actual contraction lasts, as shown in the example below. Writing down the time and length of the contraction is extremely helpful for describing your contraction pattern to your physician, midwife or hospital labor and delivery personnel.

10:0045 Seconds
10:1045 Seconds
10:1560 Seconds
10:2055 Seconds

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