Types of Contractions During Pregnancy & What They Mean


The nine-month journey called pregnancy is filled with all sorts of joys, and aches. and love, like you never knew you were capable of feeling, especially for someone/some people you have never met. Some pregnant moms are ‘lucky’ enough to experience all the text book symptoms of pregnancy; every single one of them, right from morning sickness, to cramps, to Braxton-Hick contractions…the whole hog.
There are some moms who just experience a few of these symptoms, and when they talk about pregnancy, it’s so sweet, they seduce you into thinking you could actually manage being pregnant every year, if all pregnancies could be like that. Well that’s usually where all the similarities end. Not even two pregnancies by the same woman are the same. So, no basis for comparison.
However, contractions are one thing that everyone experiences in varying degrees. It was one of the major turn offs for me during pregnancy. I was so afraid of them. While there are different types contractions during pregnancy, not all of them mean that the baby is ready to exit the womb. Here are some contractions, you will experience while pregnant.

1. Early Contractions

You can experience contractions in the first trimester, as your body adjusts to its new state; a pregnancy. The stretching of the ligaments around the uterus can cause contractions, just as dehydration, constipation, and gas pains can, all of which are common place during pregnancy.

However, if these contractions are accompanied by spotting, bleeding and/or abdominal pain, you need to see a doctor to rule out an ectopic pregnancy, or a possible miscarriage.

2. Contractions During Sex

If yours is a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, you need not be so concerned, as it has been proven that orgasms, with or without sexual intercourse, do not increase the risk of premature labour. Nor is sex likely to trigger labour, even if your EDD is just around the corner.

However, if yours is a high risk pregnancy, for a number of reasons, your doctor may advise that you abstain from sex for almost the duration of your pregnancy. In this case, orgasms, with or without sex, are not advisable.

3. Preterm labour Contractions

Painful, regular contractions before 37 weeks of pregnancy may be a sign of preterm labour. The length of a normal pregnancy is 37 to 42 weeks, measured from the date of the woman’s last menstrual period. Before 20 weeks, preterm labour that leads to delivery is a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion).

Preterm labour is often diagnosed in a woman who is 20 to 37 weeks pregnant and has regular uterine contractions. This means 4 or more in 20 minutes, or about 8 or more in 1 hour.

It is advisable to call your doctor, or go to the hospital, if you have had regular contractions for an hour, even after you have had a glass of water, and are resting. Preterm labour can happen to any woman. There is no single cause of preterm labour. Compared to babies born after 37 weeks, preterm babies are at greater risk of:

  • Hospitalization
  • Long-term health problems
  • Death in infancy

Now, we are getting to the point of interest to most pregnant women, especially, if you are not like my sister’s neighbour, who never knows when she is going to have her baby.

You see, this lady had her two daughters, without going through any prolonged stages of labour. According to my sister, if she tells you that her back hurts while she is pregnant, then know that she is likely to give birth within the hour, if not the next 30 minutes.
The last time she told my sister her back hurt was in September last year, before my sister’s husband could get back home with the car, less than 20 minutes, she had given birth and fainted.

It was pandemonium, as they had to call a nurse to revive her, before taking her to the hospital, and not much attention was given to the baby, whom my sister said was thriving, even though, she was premature. She lost the baby, and her blood pressure was so low that her doctor advised that she was not told her baby had died, for fear she might go into shock.

It was two months after the whole drama, that the news of what happened that day in September was broken to her. And that was when she was ready to handle the story, even though I think she must have known she had lost the baby.
But I digress, in preparation for actual labour, there are pre-contractions, better known as

4. Braxton-Hicks contractions

These contractions prepare the path of the baby, soften muscles, like the cervix, and loosen your pelvic joints for the business that is ahead.

While it can start as early as the 20th week in some women, most women start to experience it in the 28th into the 40th week of pregnancy. They come as episodes, where your uterine muscles become taut and firm to the touch, and then they relax again. They can be mild, or strong enough to catch your attention. As the weeks go by, they may become more frequent. Not to worry, they are merely preparing your body for the job, it has to do.

5. Early Labour contractions are part of the ritual of passage

Usually, my water breaks, and the show starts. For my sister, she sees blood, called show, and then starts to experience one hellish contraction after another. Whatever happens to you, remember this is the beginning of the journey, which can be fast or long.

Early labour is often the longest part of the birthing process, sometimes lasting 2 to 3 days, which is why some women might be in labour, but are not aware of it. The contractions range from mild to moderate, and last about 30 to 45 seconds. You can keep talking during these contractions. They may be irregular, or even stop altogether for a while.

In early labour, the cervix opens (dilates) to about 3 cm. First-time mothers may have many hours of early labour, without the cervix dilating. You may go to the hospital and be sent home again until you begin active labour or your water breaks.

6. Active labour contractions

You’re considered to be in active labour if you have contractions that last for about a minute, and come regularly more often than every five minutes.

The first stage of active labour starts when the cervix is about 3 cm to 4 cm dilated. This stage is complete when the cervix is fully dilated and the baby is ready to be pushed out. During the last part of this stage (transition), labour becomes really intense, but then, there is a human being about to come into the world.

Strength for D-Day preggy mamas!


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Photo credits:

1. http://www.newtimes.co.rw/

2. http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/

3.  http://i.huffpost.com/

4. http://www.usnews.com/

5. http://www.emmasdiary.co.uk/

6. http://www.livescience.com/

7. http://safeandhappybirth.com/



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