Feeling puffy and swollen after delivery is fairly normal, according to experts.
Midwives should be familiar with techniques to help your body do what it needs to do, and help you labor the way you want to. Photo: Shutterstock

Can You Actually See Contractions Happening On The Outside?

When you're pregnant with your first baby, you're curious about everything. You worry and wonder about what's happening inside of your body, and how things will progress. One of the biggest things you're likely curious about is labor and delivery. What will it feel like? Can you see contractions happening from the outside, or just feel them?

Experiencing a contraction and seeing it happen from the outside are vastly different things. However, Lisa Gould Rubin, a Certified Labor Doula and Childbirth Educator, tells Romper that it's actually "pretty easy to see your belly 'stand up' during the contraction." The belly is literally contracting and tightening the major muscles around the baby in order to move it further into the birth canal, and eventually help move the baby out of the body entirely.

I am a tall, relatively thin woman, and I was surprised at how my belly looked with Braxton Hicks, and then true labor contractions. When you're pregnant, your belly is never really soft, but it's always sort of in motion. It's fluid. You can watch your baby move, and it has a sense of soft life to the flesh. When you have a contraction, all of that ceases to be the case. Your belly sharpens, hardens, and sticks out more than usual.

Daniel Roshan, M.D. tells Romper that this is not uncommon. "If a person is thin you could see uterus get hard and bumpy during contractions," he says.


My belly tended to lean one way or another during my contractions. It was as if my children were steering me from the inside. During one contraction, my belly would be stiff and on the left, and the next it might be hard and on the right. It was the most bizarre thing to witness. Even my husband (who as a cop in New York City is seldom astonished by anything) looked at my belly in labor and said "Well, that's just creepy."

And those contractions are apparent even when you're not undressed. If you're wondering if you can see contractions happening from the outside, over your clothes, I am here to tell you that you can. While I didn't see it through my winter coat or anything, I definitely could see it through the pajamas I wore as I went into labor. Childbirth, man, it's one heck of a wild journey. Unsurprisingly, after they gave me my blessed, blessed epidural, I did not care one iota if I could see the contractions, because I could no longer feel them radiating from my spine to my undercarriage in an unholy arc of pain. I just let them do their work while I watched the Food Network on the tiny hospital room television set.

(Pro tip: do not do that. You become hungry and the hospital refuses to feed you because you're in labor. I was eating contraband jelly beans while I watched Ina Garten make Jeffrey a feast. I still remember to this day that it was a roast chicken. She was taunting me. If you can't make your own amniotic fluid, don't worry, store bought is fine.)

And the bun in my oven made herself known. I could remember seeing her legs or butt push out through the contraction, and because I couldn't feel it, it was surreal.

"It’s easier to see baby parts as well — head, tush, knees — because the uterus is tightening around them and these parts especially stand out," Gould-Rubin says. For my daughter I will forever swear that it was because she, too, heard the siren's song of the Barefoot Contessa, but it might have also just been the contractions.


Daniel Roshan, M.D., F.A.C.O.G, F.A.C.S, Director, ROSH Maternal-Fetal Medicine

Lisa Gould Rubin, Certified Labor Doula and Childbirth Educator