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What Do True Labor Contractions Feel Like?

True labor feels different for every woman. It may even feel different from one pregnancy to the next.

Labor contractions cause pain and pressure in your pelvis and discomfort or a dull ache in your back or lower abdomen. Some women may also feel pain in their sides and thighs. The pain comes and goes at regular intervals and increases in frequency and intensity with time.

Some women describe contractions as strong menstrual cramps, while others describe them as strong waves that feel like diarrhea cramps.

If you have signs of true labor, call your doctor or midwife immediately. If you're not sure, call your health care provider anyway. If you have any of the following symptoms, you may be in true labor.

  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more than five contractions in an hour
  • Regular tightening or pain in your back or lower abdomen
  • Increasing pressure in your pelvis or vagina
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Fluid leaking from your vagina
  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

How Do Braxton Hicks Compare to True Labor Contractions?

To figure out if the contractions you are feeling are the real thing and you're going into labor, ask yourself the following questions.

How often do the contractions happen?

  • False Labor: Contractions are often irregular and don’t get closer together.
  • True Labor: Contractions come at regular intervals and last about 30-70 seconds. As time goes on, they get closer together and stronger.

Do they change when you move?

  • False Labor: Contractions may stop when you walk or rest, or may even stop if you change positions.
  • True Labor: Contractions continue despite how you move or change positions. They also continue when you try to rest.

How strong are they?

  • False Labor: Contractions are usually weak and don't get much stronger. Or they may be strong at first and then get weaker.
  • True Labor: Contractions get steadily stronger and stronger.

Where do you feel the pain?

  • False Labor: You usually feel it only in the front of your abdomen or pelvis.
  • True Labor: Contractions are more intense and may start in your lower back and move to the front of your abdomen. Or they may start in your abdomen and move to your back.