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Pregnancy Information Center

Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources


Contractions During Pregnancy: Your Symptoms Manual


What Contractions During Pregnancy Are

Contractions are your body's means of pushing your baby down the birth canal and out into the world. They feel like pains in your abdomen and/or lower back, and possibly even in your upper thighs. During early labor, the pain might be reminiscent of menstrual cramps or a mild backache. 

If you're in labor, your contractions should intensify no matter what you do — whether you rest, stand up, sit down, or lay down, they will become more frequent, intense and regular over time. You may also have an upset stomach, cramps or diarrhea. 

If your water breaks or the "show" appears, then you know you're on your way to having a baby. Show is a thick, sticky discharge that occurs when the mucous plug that seals your cervix in pregnancy becomes dislodged. It may be brown, pink or blood-tinged. 

When your contractions are about 5 to 7 minutes apart, measured from the start of one to the start of the next, you're definitely in labor! And yes, contractions usually hurt, but if it's any consolation, they do mean that you'll see your baby soon.  


Why Contractions Happen During Pregnancy

A change in hormone levels signals to your brain that your baby is ready to be born. These new hormones, including prostaglandin and oxytocin, trigger contractions.


How to Manage Contractions During Pregnancy

It can be difficult for some pregnant women to determine whether contractions they feel are the real thing. Sometimes, contractions that indicate preterm labor (which means labor after 20 weeks but before 37 weeks, when your baby is full term) won't "hurt," but they're still significant. No matter what week of pregnancy you're in, pay attention to any contractions you feel and seek the advice of your healthcare provider about them.

  • Try shifting your position to see if the contractions cease.

  • Sit down quietly and rest to see if the contractions cease.

  • Use the relaxation techniques learned in your birthing class. 

  • Call your provider or hospital.


Reviewed by Susan Spencer MSN, RNC, IBCLC on January 26, 2016.
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