The word ‘contraction’ literally refers to the process of making something smaller and more compact. Medically, it means a muscle becoming or being made to become shorter and tighter. Frequently, shortening of the uterine muscles is referred to as contraction in hospitals and medical centers. It is a completely normal phenomenon which occurs before and during childbirth.
What are the different types of contractions?
You may be familiar with the fact that contractions are the mechanism that helps to push your baby through the birth canal into the outside world, but you are probably unaware that there can be quite a few different types of contractions. Let us take a look at the overview of each type:
· Braxton Hicks contractions – Also known as practice contractions, these are the type that live up to its name. They are not associated with labor, and do not cause cervical ripening via dilation and effacement.
· False labor contractions – If you are having irregular contractions towards the end of your pregnancy, but are not showing fresh blood on vaginal discharge, you are probably experiencing what is known as false labor contractions. False labor contractions can occur even a week after due date.
· Labor contractions – These are the classical findings of a woman in labor. These are exacerbated by activity, but not relieved by postural change. They are regular, intense, frequent, and last for 30-70 seconds each. The intensity builds up as labor progresses. Labor contractions are associated with ‘bloody show’, cramps, and most significantly, ‘water breaking’.
Things you need to know about labor contractions
The chief complaint regarding labor contractions is the pain that the mother experiences. Pain may be felt in the lower abdomen and/or back and may radiate to the upper part of the thighs. You are likely to feel like having heavy menstrual cramps at this point of time.
Depending on the stage of your labor, the average contraction can vary in length, frequency and intensity. As a thumb rule, the contractions become more powerful, frequent and longer as one progresses towards the date of delivery.
In the early stage, each contraction lasts for only 30-45 seconds, followed by the active stage when they last for 45-60 seconds. Transitional labor has contractions lasting for 60 to 90 seconds. They become quite intense and frequent at this stage, but become less painful during delivery.
Should you be calling your doctor about the contractions?
Contractions may often raise a false alarm if you are nervous about your pregnancy. That, however, should not deter you from calling up your physician if you feel the need to do so. There is no shame in misjudging the labor signs, especially if you don’t have the required medical knowledge. So do not hesitate about disturbing your doctor even if it is the middle of the night. Labor contractions have characteristic features – for instance, they are usually 5 to 7 minutes apart – but often they may not be reliable.
While on the call, your physician will try to assess your situation by asking a few questions. It’s always better to be honest with your doctor about symptoms and levels of pain, even if it implies you have been fooled by a false alarm. Remember that you are not the first expecting mother to have done this, and will definitely not be the last one.
Know when to visit the hospital. In case you cannot contact your doctor over the phone, and you are experiencing preterm labor, you must immediately prepare to head towards the hospital. If your water breaks, but your labor has not yet begun, you should still go to the hospital. It is always better to seek medical help from professionals before it’s too late.
Uterine contractions are not always due to labor pain. Your uterus is likely to contract during an orgasm too. In fact, for some women, contractions may last for as long as half an hour. If you are pregnant during that time, rest assured that these contractions will not induce labor and are completely harmless to you and your little one. So there is no reason to be concerned unless you are predisposed to miscarriage for some reason, in which case, your doctor would have advised you against experiencing orgasm during pregnancy.