Pregnancy brings with it so many unknowns and new experiences. Whether you are experiencing your first pregnancy or your sixth, each one can vary greatly. First time moms can have an especially difficult time as they navigate this new world. Contractions and discomfort can happen at any time throughout the nine months of carrying a child. It’s important to know and understand the different types of contractions, what causes them and which ones lead to actual labor.
A contraction is when the muscles around the uterus contract and relax. They can be subtle or strong and wax and wane. The strength of a contraction and the duration, can be one of the first clues if labor is beginning or, if what you are experiencing, is a series of Braxton Hicks, or false labor. A Braxton Hicks contraction is common during the last month of pregnancy but can happen sooner. It’s an irregular contraction and can start and stop depending on the activity you are doing. Often, a woman experiencing Braxton Hicks, can find relief by standing up, walking, taking a warm bath or even relaxing. These contractions do not change the cervix or do anything to ready the body for labor. Typically, these contractions don’t increase in severity and go away after about an hour.
Many things can cause a woman to contract. Dehydration alone can cause contractions. An increase in or concentration of Oxytocin, either from the mother or the baby can cause a woman to feel the muscles around the uterus contracting. Here are some other things that can cause contractions.
- a vaginal exam during your pregnancy can cause you to feel a little crampy and contracted but it usually doesn’t last long.
- intercourse during the last trimester of your pregnancy can cause some contracting. The closer you are to delivery, the contractions may be intense but often, settle down as quickly as they arrived. Make sure you visit with your doctor about intercourse, especially if you are in a high risk category.
- exercise for the most part is safely done during pregnancy, with minor adjustments, but if you find you contract a lot during exercise, it’s important to stop and check in with your doctor. Exercise can do a body good, but there are always exceptions…make sure you aren’t one of them.
- get your fill of water. Hydration is one of the best ways to stop pre-term labor. During your pregnancy, make an extra effort to stay hydrated, especially during the summer months. Dehydration will definitely start up some discomfort through contractions.
So, what happens next…after you feel a series of contractions? If you are feeling more than 5 in an hour, they get stronger and occur at steady intervals, you should check in with your doctor, especially if you are less than 37 weeks along in your pregnancy. A contraction that lasts 30-60 seconds, and are relatively close together, could be a sign that labor is beginning. If changing your activity doesn’t stop or slow them down, that could be another sign to seek medical advice. Contractions that occur with labor can be more intensely felt in the lower back, not just the abdomen.
It helps to be in tune with your body and understand the messages it sends to you. Most women will come to recognize the growing pains that come with pregnancy but if you are ever in doubt, visit with your nurse or health care provider. They can offer advice and support so that you enjoy a healthy, full term pregnancy.