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Contractions are a vital element in a pregnant woman’s life as this may signify so many things from a possible premature delivery of the baby to helping with the expulsion of the fetus. Knowing what the different types of contractions are and how to count them is important because it will tell if you need to go to the doctor or just rest.

Types of contractions

There are different types of contractions that a pregnant woman should be aware of:

1. Braxton-hicks contractions
This starts in the 3rd – 4th month of pregnancy where you will notice your uterus contracting every once in a while. These contractions are usually infrequent, irregular and not strong enough to induce labor. These contractions are not painful, are centered in the abdomen and may make you feel uncomfortable at times. They help prepare your muscles for the delivery and are usually relieved by rest or changes in positions.

2. Early labor contraction
These contractions feel like mild to moderate menstrual cramps, occur intermittently and are variable. It happens every 7 minutes or more in your sleep or while doing other activities. It is best to stay at home when you are having early labor contractions. Ask your partner to create a resting space for you and dim the lights. If that doesn’t work, try distracting yourself by watching TV, walking, or strolling in the park.

3. Preterm labor contractions
If you are having contractions at <37 weeks of pregnancy, you might be having preterm labor. These contractions appear regular with increasing frequency, duration and consistency. You will also experience a dull backache, increasing pressure on the pelvis and abdomen, and cramping pain. If the contractions are accompanied by vaginal bleeding, diarrhea, or a sudden gush of water discharge on your legs, contract your health care provider immediately or call for help as you might be experiencing preterm labor.

4. True labor contraction
Weeks before your due date, you will notice that the contractions are more frequent than usual and the duration is also increasing. You will know that you are having true labor contractions when:

  • Contractions intensify with activity rather than subsiding.
  • Changing position nor rest does not relieve the pain.
  •  Associated with having pinkish or blood streaked “bloody show”
    in your underwear.
  • Rupture of membranes that presents as sudden gush of watery
    discharge dripping down on your legs.
  • Increasing back pain and an upset stomach, cramps or diarrhea.

How to count contractions

Contractions are described as a cramping or tightening sensation in the abdomen that starts at the back and then moves to the front like a wave. During a contraction, you will feel that your abdomen is hard to the touch.
These contractions cause the cervix and the lower part of the uterus to stretch and relax giving way for the baby to pass through the vaginal canal for delivery. When counting contractions, it is better to record them down on a sheet of paper to know how often you are experiencing contractions. It is also helpful in describing your contraction pattern, which will tell your physician whether or not you are already on true labor. For the Duration: Start by counting from the beginning of one contraction until its end. For the Frequency: Start by counting from the beginning of one contraction until the start of the next contraction.

Stages of labor contractions

Early labor phase
Contractions last for about 30 to 45 seconds and occur every 5-30 minutes. Giving your abdomen more time to relax. During this time, the cervix dilates up to about 3 cm. Contractions are milder and infrequent but the consistency is becoming stronger unlike the Braxton-hick’s contractions.

Active labor phase
In this phase, the contractions are stronger and longer and occur every 3 to 5 minutes lasting for about 45 to 60 seconds. This phase usually lasts for 3 to 5 hours and during this phase, the cervix dilates to about 4 to 7 cm.

Transition phase
During the transition phase, the contractions occur every 30 seconds to about 2 minutes decreasing the time for rest in between contractions. Transition phase lasts from 30 minutes to 2 hours and is the hardest phase of the 3 as the contractions are described as long, strong, and intense and sometimes it feels like the contractions are occurring on top of each other. This might be the hardest phase, but it is also the shortest one.

Ways to relieve discomfort caused by contractions

Contractions do not bother you as much until you reach the stage of true labor where they becomes stronger, more frequent and last longer than you usually experience. There are a number of things that you could do to deal with the pain and discomfort without resorting to taking medication.
You could try:

  • Having a warm bath or shower.
  • Taking a walk or changing positions.
  • Doing meditational activities like yoga or deep breathing exercises.
  • Hypnosis is effective too in promoting comfort.
  • Listening to music will help you feel relaxed.
  • Having a massage or counter pressure.
  •  Attending antepartum classes can relieve your anxiety and prepares
    you for the big day.
  •  Finding other ways to distract yourself by playing a game, counting,
    doing house chores and the like.

If all else fails, medications such as analgesics or antispasmodics can help dull the pain but keep the muscle movement intact. Make sure to consult your health care practitioner before you take these medications.

Sex during contractions

Sex is an essential part of every relationship and even pregnant woman can still have sex unless otherwise contraindicated by your doctor. You will notice a cramping or painful pain during or even after an orgasm that is accompanied by a little spotting. In a normal pregnant woman, this can be experienced because of an increase in the blood flow towards the abdomen, making your cervix more sensitive than usual. Seeing blood after sex might make you feel uncomfortable but don’t worry and just give your body some time to rest and it will make you feel more relaxed and ease the discomfort.

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Astley Golosinda

My background is in the field of medicine and I have a Bachelors Degree in Nursing. My thesis in Nursing was also published on Journal of Gerontology

For the past 4 years, I continued my studies and dedicated my time to acquiring a Doctorate of Medicine. I was a working student all throughout my post-doctorate degree. I have clinical experience in the hospital both as a nurse and now as a medical student.

Dr Dmitro Kyiashko

Ukrainian doctor-radiologist, freelance writer on Upwork, and Fiverr, passionate about medicine, writing, and music.

I was graduated from the Vinnytsia Тational Medical University in 2016 and working for more than 5 years in the various Ukrainian healthcare institutions. Now I’m focused on writing, mostly medical-related. Also, I enjoy playing different musical instruments, like drums, guitar and bass.