What do labor pains feel like and where might they occur in the body?

Q: This is my first child and I have no idea what labor pains are supposed to feel like.  I am 9 months pregnant and I don’t know if I should go to the doctor or just not worry about it.

A: Labor pains, or contractions, result when the uterus (which is a muscle) begins to contract.  There are 2 kinds of contractions: true labor contractions and false contractions (also known as Braxton-Hicks contractions).  In general, contractions are usually felt in the lower middle abdomen.  Occasionally, they are felt as low back pain as well.  They often feel like menstrual cramps and are very common as a pregnancy comes to an end.  Usually, they start sporadically, and labor doesn't actually begin until the contractions are at regular intervals.  The table below gives a nice summary on the differences between the two.

 TRUE LABOR - Contractions occur at regular intervals. - Contraction intensity and discomfort gradually increases.- Intervals between contractions gradually decrease. - Discomfort occurs in the lower back and abdomen. - Increased vaginal discharge or bloody show. - Contractions cause cervical dilation. - Contractions do not stop with rest, hydration, or medication.

FALSE LABOR - Contractions occur at irregular intervals. - Contraction intensity and discomfort remain unchanged. - Intervals between contractions remain long. - Discomfort is mainly in the lower abdomen, or no discomfort other than tightening. - No accompanying bloody show. - The cervix does not dilate. - Discomfort from contractions is relieved by rest and medication.


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