Q&A: What do contractions feel like and how can I tell if I’m having one?

Posted in Labour & Delivery, Pregnancy FAQs and tagged , .

Question & Answer

It’s one of the biggest pregnancy mysteries – what will it feel like when labour finally starts? Heading towards the home stretch, every little twinge and tightening can have you reaching for the hospital bag.

The onset of contractions is one of the first signs of labour for many women, so here’s what you’re likely to experience.

So what do contractions feel like?


Up until labour, your body will have had plenty of practice contractions, known as Braxton Hicks. While these may have been powerful and even long-lasting, they weren’t getting your cervix ready to deliver.

Contractions can feel vastly different for each woman – these are the most common symptoms:

  • Your abdomen will become hard
  • In between contractions, your tummy will relax and be soft again
  • A dull ache in your back and lower abdomen
  • Your pelvis will feel pressure
  • A wave-like feeling of cramping from the top of the uterus to the bottom
  • Can feel like period pain
  • It won’t stop when you change position
  • Will be regular, increasing in intensity
  • Usually, lasts about 30 to 45 seconds
  • They will get closer together

We asked the members of our Facebook due date pregnancy groups to try and explain what their contractions felt like and this is what they said …

How would you describe what a contraction feels like?

Posted by Mum’s Grapevine on Wednesday, 2 September 2020


Early on they’re like tight squeezes mixed with needing to poo/period cramps.” – Kristel

“If someone tells you you’ll know when you’re having contractions that’s not always true! I didn’t feel anything at all when I went to be induced and when they hooked me up to the monitor they said I was having very strong contractions and I literally didn’t feel a thing.” – Alyssa 

“Best explanation I had explained to me was you’ll know when it’s a contraction and it’s a wave through your belly starting from the top to bottom … and that’s exactly what they felt like until they were unbearable. Then it was just constant pain until the pushing out part then it was all over and you forget about the pain.” – Kaysey

If you think you’re having contractions give your midwife or maternity hospital a quick call. Exciting times ahead!

Read next …

Want to feel as prepared as possible for labour? Here are a few helpful articles that you might like to read next:

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