When we speak of contractions, in obstetrics, we mean the (painful) contracting of the uterine muscles. The abdomen feels hard, with a possible pain in the lower abdomen. There are several types of contractions, not all as painful.
Practice contractions / hard bellies
Early contractions can be felt from the 3rd month. The cause is the growth of the uterus, and sometimes fatigue or stress. Usually, these contractions do not hurt, but they can feel similar to menstrual pain and / or intestinal cramps. These hard bellies are irregular and go away automatically. Heat and rest can help.
Preterm contractions (Braxton-Hicks)
Preterm contractions can start to occur at 6 months. They can be caused by
- Movements of the baby;
- Making love;
- a full bladder;
- a uterine tract infection (always have it treated by a GP).
Preterm contractions can differ in frequency and strength; fast-paced, short-lived and non-painful contractions, or contractions that just pop up once or twice an hour, last a few minutes but are painful. Both are normal. A warm bath or hot shower is relaxing and helps stop the contractions.
The lightening of the baby can also cause contractions. They can last for several hours.
Actual labor contractions are much more painful than the other types of contractions. These contractions will lead to wider dilation of the cervix. They will become more frequent, up to once every three to five minutes and last for about a minute.
Early contractions can develop into full labor contractions. If you have contractions every five minutes for one or two hours, it’s likely that labor has commenced. When this happens and you have not been pregnant for at least 37 weeks, contact our practice immediately.