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What Does Labor Feel Like?

Understanding the Signs of Labor


If you're a first time mom, you've probably read all about the signs of labor and delivery. But if you're asking yourself, “What does labor feel like?” learn more so that you understand when it's safe to do through labor at home and when the signs of labor indicate that it's time to go to the hospital (assuming you are planning a hospital birth). Knowing what labor feels like can help ensure a smoother labor and delivery.

The First Signs of Labor

The first signs of labor are contractions, but these are different than the Braxton Hicks contractions you've probably been experiencing. These contractions will be a regular tightening in your belly that gradually becomes more intense, more frequent, and lasts longer. Braxton Hicks contractions, on the other hand, are simply “practice contractions” because they won't build in intensity or happen at any regular intervals.

Contractions will help open your cervix, creating a birth canal that the baby will fit through. In the beginning, they might be quite short and well-spaced. By the end of your first signs of labor, they'll be happening every two to three minutes.

Depending on your personal pain perception, contractions can vary from quite painful to mildly uncomfortable. This is part of the reason why asking someone “What does labor feel like?” can have such varying results. However, you should receive a reprieve from the pain in between contractions, which helps make them bearable.

What Does Labor Feel Like During Established Labor?

The second stage of labor and delivery is known as established labor. In this stage, your cervix will be dilated to 4 or 5 centimeters and your contractions will be more intense and happen more frequently.

This stage can last between six and 12 hours and your contractions may be five minutes apart. If you want an epidural, now's the time to ask for it. However, some moms prefer more natural types of pain relief, such as massage and relaxation techniques. Your partner will also become an important part of labor and delivery at this point, so don't be afraid to ask for support. Staying busy, whether by surfing the Internet, watching movies, or playing cards can all help distract you from what's going on in your body during labor and delivery.

Transition During Labor and Delivery

Transition happens just before your cervix dilates to 10 centimeters. If you ask other women “What does labor feel like?” transition is usually the most difficult stage.

You may feel shaky or physically sick. Some women may even shiver uncontrollably and end up extremely irritated with their partner or the medical personnel. At this point, some women even feel like they're ready to give up and go home, but don't! The end is in sight and these physical changes just mean that your body is working to open your cervix to allow your baby to be born.

What Labor Feels Like When You're Ready to Push

Once your cervix is open all the way, you're ready to start pushing. This stage can last a few hours, or it can last just a few minutes.

You'll probably feel tired at this point, especially if you've been laboring a long time. Some women feel energized because they realize the end is in sight, but others feel discouraged because the hardest stage of labor and delivery is still to come.

You'll know it's time to push when it feels like you need to have a bowel movement. During this part of labor and delivery, your contractions will be longer and you'll feel an urge to push. Some women want to moan or grunt -- if making noise makes the pain more bearable, go for it!

doctors delivering a baby

The baby will move down the birth canal during contractions and then you'll be able to feel the baby slip back up once the contractions have ended. This can seem discouraging, but it's normal. If the baby isn't making progress, your healthcare provider may have you switch positions. Forceps may be used if the baby seems to be stuck in the birth canal.

You may feel a burning sensation as the baby's head starts to crown. The perineum will sometimes tear during this stretching or your healthcare provider could make a cut if necessary. When the baby finally emerges, you'll have an instant feeling of relief and happiness.

What Does Labor Feel Like: The Afterbirth

Once the baby is out, the placenta needs to be delivered. However, you may not even notice or remember the afterbirth, especially if you're occupied with meeting and naming your new baby.

A Mom Says…

“Contractions can be painful, but there is a break in between each one that helps. The breathing techniques I learned in childbirth class helped quite a bit when it was time to push!”

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