I didn't realize how unrealistic movie births were until I had my daughter. On the big screen, pregnant women suddenly pop up in bed, shrieking in pain. "It's time!" I wish this was reality. Instead, I spent the last week of my pregnancy Googling, "Is [insert symptom here] a sign of labor?" It wasn't until my water had broken and the pain intensified that I realized, "OK... now these are contractions." These are seven weird things that happen when you have a contraction, some of which you won't notice and some of which you cannot miss.
As you've undoubtedly gathered after months and months of pregnancy, no woman's experience is the same. This holds true for contractions, too. Some women describe their contractions like painful but manageable period cramps, while others can't adequately put their pain into words. Some aspects of contractions are universal, while others vary from woman to woman — and even labor to labor. And one thing I learned from my own labor experience? No matter how much you read in order to prepare for the big day, some of the stuff your body does will inevitably end up surprising you. I guess it's a fitting start for the wild, unpredictable rollercoaster that is parenting.
1. Your belly gets hard.
By the end of pregnancy, your belly feels so tight that it's hard to imagine it getting any tighter. Yet somehow, during contractions, it does.
"A contraction is a periodic tightening or hardening of your uterus," explained an article from the University of California San Diego. "If your uterus is contracting, you will actually feel your abdomen get tight or hard, and then feel it relax or soften when the contraction is over." At one point when my husband placed a hand on my hardened belly during a contraction, he exclaimed, "Doesn't that hurt?!" Yes, darling, yes it does.
2. You may feel nauseous and even vomit.
As if contractions aren't unpleasant enough, why not add some puke to the mix? While I personally (and luckily) avoided this myself, it's not uncommon for women to feel queasy and throw up during intense contractions.
There are a few reasons why you may toss your cookies during a strong contraction, typically "either because of the pain you're experiencing or as a result of food sitting in your stomach (digestion usually stops during labor)," according to Parents. Ask for a barf bag if you start feeling off. Trust me, your labor and delivery nurses have them handy!
3. Your cervix is drawn upward into the uterus, where it thins and opens.
You're probably familiar with the concepts of dilation and effacement, but did you know your contractions actually cause your cervix to move?
"The cervix is actually a part of the uterus, but made up of different tissue," said an article from the University of Minnesota. "As you approach the time of birth, your contractions draw the cervix up into the body of the uterus and it becomes thinner (called effacement) and opens (called dilation)." During those painful contractions, it can be helpful to remember that each one is preparing your body and bringing you one step closer to meeting your baby.
4. Your legs may hurt.
You've braced yourself for pain in your stomach and back... but your legs? It's true. "You may feel pain in just the lower abdomen or in the lower back and abdomen, and the pain may radiate down the legs, particularly the upper thighs," warned What To Expect. During your contractions, try experimenting with different positions to find one that will minimize your discomfort, wherever it may be.
5. You may want to make noises... or they may slip out involuntarily!
If you feel the need to scream during an intense contraction, you certainly aren't alone. Even the most composed mamas may "lose it" when experiencing the extreme pain of a contraction. "During labor — especially if you haven't been given pain medication — you may find yourself screaming, crying, even swearing at your husband or doctor," reported Parents. "All of these reactions are common; they're simply a response to pain and exhaustion."
While it's not always possible to control what comes out of your mouth, try to avoid screaming and instead moan through your pain. "Moaning is most helpful when it is done in lower, deeper tones as opposed to high pitched tones, as it will help keep the laboring partner's jaw loose and relaxed which correlates directly to a loose and relaxed perineum," instructs Lamaze International.
6. You'll probably feel the need to push.
Some women will experience an overwhelming urge to push during their contractions, while others do not. This discrepancy is often attributed to epidurals, though many mothers who elect to receive an epidural still experience that pushing instinct. Why does it happen?
"This is generally caused by the baby being pressed onto the Ferguson Plexus of nerves, creating Ferguson's reflex: the urge to push," explained Verywell Family. Most women remark that giving into that natural urge and pushing eases their pain during their contractions, according to Parents.
7. You might feel lightheaded.
It's really not too shocking that intense contraction pain can cause you to feel dizzy and lightheaded. These symptoms are most often experienced during active labor, according to Healthline, when your cervix is reaching complete dilation. Drinking cold water, slowing down your breath, and fanning your face with cold air can help relieve these symptoms.