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What Does Labor Feel Like?

As a first-time mother, you want to know everything about pregnancy, labor and delivery. As your due date approaches, you may start wondering how it feels to undergo labor. Knowing the information of labor is very important. This will make you be more prepared to deliver your baby in a safe and smooth manner.

What Does Labor Feel Like?

1. Pre-Labor

Braxton-hicks or pre-labor may occur as early as the second trimester of pregnancy (20 weeks), but they are more common during the third trimester. Some females consider this stage as the “practice” stage for labor. The cervix is not dilated when you’re having pre-labor contractions. They only serve as a warm-up for the uterus.

For a lot of women, pre-labor contractions are usually painless, irregular and they may come and go. Each woman may experience a different sensation. Some may feel that it is like as if their baby is moving, but for others the feeling resembles gas pain. Pre-labor contractions can be caused by stress, dehydration and excessive activity.

2. Early Labor

Early labor is the first stage of labor. It signifies that your labor is about to start and your baby is coming soon.

Unlike pre-labor, the contractions in early labor are regular. There is a 5 to 20 minutes gap between each contraction. If timed, these contractions will last for less than 1 minute. Although the contraction is not painful, it is noticeable. For some, it can feel like a menstrual cramp.

3. Active Labor

During the active labor, the cervix starts to open and shorten. This is also the stage where the baby starts to move downwards. The contractions are a little stronger, longer and the gap between contractions is shorter. Active labor contractions are usually 5 minutes apart from each other. They last for about 1 minute or longer.

What does labor feel like at this stage? Intense pain can also be felt in the lower back. There may also be a stabbing pain in the legs. Some females typically feel the contractions within their abdominal region. For the others, the contractions are felt lower, within the cervix.

Nonetheless, during this stage, there are gaps between contractions. Thus, expecting mothers can still have a break to breathe and relax.

4. Transition

For most women, this is the stage of labor that they fear. Not all women have experienced overwhelming sensations during this stage. However, for those who did, this stage is certainly unforgettable.

Transition is considered as the shortest stage of labor. Typically, it lasts only for 15 – 30 minutes. During this stage, there is a rapid dilation of the cervix. This is also the stage where expecting mothers need all the support they can get. Some women may want to give up during this stage. Thus, their loved ones must be prepared to encourage and give them strength when they are about to give up.

Contractions during the transition stage can occur one after the other, and they may even occur in double peaks. The labor is emotionally and physically intense and unbearable. Most women may feel pressure that is very strong when their baby moves. Sometimes, vomiting and shaking may also occur. Some women may request medications during this stage. However, it is beneficial to pass this stage without taking any medicine.  

While most women fear this stage, it is only brief. It can also be rewarding to know that your baby is coming. 

5. Pushing

Women may have varying experiences and feelings during labor. For some, they consider the pushing stage as exciting and painless. For the others, the pressure can be overwhelming and unbearable.

A lot of women say that the first pushing sensation resembles the feeling when you need to defecate. This is felt because the baby is pressing certain abdominal parts and triggering identical reflexes that affect bowel movement. This is good because it helps the expecting mother to push efficiently. One benefit of not taking any medications during labor is that a female is able to notice this sensation, allowing her to cooperate with her body.

The gap between pushing contractions is about 5 minutes apart. This gives the expecting mother some time to recover. Moving her to an upright position can help speed up this process.

Crowning is also part of the pushing stage of labor. What does labor feel like during crowning? Some women have felt a burning sensation known as the “ring of fire” during this stage. This is typically felt because the vaginal tissues are stretching firmly over the baby’s head. This sensation may be accompanied by temporary pain, but it is also important. It helps mothers to momentarily stop pushing. The pause gives the vaginal tissues some time to stretch gently. Thus, vaginal tearing is prevented.

6. Delivering the Placenta

The final stage of labor is when the placenta comes out of the birth canal after the child is born. A lot of women barely notice this stage of labor due to exhaustion.

Other Mothers’ Experiences

"I still remember when I had my first child. Everyone was telling me that pushing was the best stage of labor. However, they were all lying. For me, pushing out my baby felt like taking an enormous, fiery poop. It was like eating 100 pieces of chili peppers and then popping out a watermelon."

"What does labor feel like for me? I would describe my contractions as waves. I could feel them approaching. They got extremely intense. When I thought that my body was about to crumble because of so much pain, they suddenly eased. The breaks I felt between contractions were very helpful. I used them to gather my strength, recompose myself and prepare myself for the next waves."

"Overall, my birthing experience felt like as if my body was taken over by someone else. When I was at the crowning stage of my labor, it felt like my vagina was being ripped apart by someone using their sharp, long and fiery nails. I actually yelled at my midwife to stop her from pulling my vagina apart with her nails. To my surprise, she told me that she was not touching any part of my body."

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