What are Contractions during Labor?
Labor contractions are periodic tightening and relaxing of uterine muscles, which are stimulated by the oxytocin hormone released by the pituitary gland. They begin as cramps in the back and move along the abdomen in a wave-like manner. The abdomen becomes very hard. The contractions tighten and thicken the upper part of the uterus (fundus) while stretching and relaxing the lower portion and cervix. These series of contractions help the baby pass through the birth canal.
It could be difficult to differentiate between true labor contractions and false contractions, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions, which occur in the weeks nearing childbirth. These false contractions are regular and vary in intensity. Some women actually feel they are going into labor due to these contractions (1).
However, the important distinguishing factor is progression. Unlike false contractions, true contractions get stronger, longer, and closer with time.
Except for some contractions that occur before the water breaking, you can be sure you are having labor contractions. You can even measure them easily with a calculator, instead of a clock or watch, to check how far you are into your labor.
How are contractions timed?
Try timing a few contractions. Then start counting from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. You will know you are in true labor if your contractions:
- Happen at regular periods
- Get stronger
- Last longer
- Become more frequent
- Continue even if you change positions, lie down, or walkable
- Contractions are four minutes apartThe figure is based on a simple formula of 4-1-2 rule, that means
- Each contraction lasts for one minute
- This pattern remains for at least two hours (2).
Here is when your active labor starts where you can no longer hold a conversation or relax completely, and can go into labor.
What are preterm labor contractions?
If you begin to have regular contractions that result in cervical changes before 37 weeks of pregnancy, they are known to be preterm contractions. Changes in the cervix include both effacement and dilation that send you into preterm labor (3).
Other early changes occur in the skin. There are some ever-so-slight pigment changes in the face or all over the body. Some women can get increased oil production and acne as well in early pregnancy...