What Does Labor Feel Like?

Labor sensations can be challenging to describe because everyone's body experiences them differently. The most common way that people talk about labor is by using the word "pain" to describe the sensations. In my work, I have found that pain and the sensations of labor are different things. Still, because we do not have an English word that describes the sensations of labor, pain is the word we use instead. 

When the body is feeling pain, it is because something is wrong, and it is trying to alert the brain that a problem is occurring. When someone is laboring to bring their baby earthside, there is nothing wrong most of the time. The sensations are incredibly intense, though. Knowing the difference between labor sensations and pain is crucial because if pain does occur in labor, it can signify that something is wrong. 

The Sensations of Labor

Some of the different ways that I have heard labor described are that it starts feeling like really bad period cramping. Slowly, these cramps begin to get more and more intense and are accompanied by tightening of the belly. 

Another way I have heard them describe it is like a wave: the contraction sensation begins very mild and slowly grows in intensity until it peaks and then begins returning to the milder feeling. The tightening of the belly can feel like someone is giving you a tight hug, like your stomach is turning into a boulder or rock, or like the baby is moving. This tightening can be simply Braxton Hicks, which are practice contractions, or it can be a sign that you are in labor. 

Knowing You're in Labor

There are a lot of average numbers that people use to indicate if someone is in actual labor. Still, sometimes, anomalies or rare patterns in labor can be missed if we don't talk about my favorite way to know if you are in labor. From my experience as a midwife, my favorite ways to tell if someone is in labor are first if the contractions get longer, stronger, and closer together over time. Contractions build, and what first starts as simply period-like cramping should eventually become an intense feeling throughout the back and belly and then finish up as feeling like a lot of pressure in your bum or vagina. 

Another great way to determine this is labor is to drink a large glass of water and change positions. Many times, Braxton Hicks can occur when someone is dehydrated, which is why drinking water is a great first step. 

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Likely if the hydration causes the contractions to stop, then they were Braxton Hicks, and you have a little bit more time. The other thing to try is changing your position. If you have been up and about, try lying down. If you have been lying down, get up and walk around. 

What Can You Do?

Actual labor will continue growing in intensity and consistency, no matter your position. Epsom salt baths are another great idea because if you are in early labor, they are soothing; but if this is not true labor, the bath will cause the uterus to calm down and allow you to get some rest.

Although it can feel exciting when you begin getting contractions, the best things to do initially are rest and ignore them. The longer you can continue doing your day-to-day activities, the better and easier labor can be. Rest, hydration, and nutrition are also crucial aspects of early labor. 

Research shows that individuals in labor are working as hard, if not harder, than they would be if they were running a marathon. Ask any marathon runner, and they will tell you that hydration, nutrition, and rest are crucial for their ability to finish their races.

In some rare cases, people will state that they experienced a pain-free labor without an epidural. This is often done by utilizing hypnosis or a deep state of meditation. Achieving a pain or intense sensation-free birth is a difficult thing to achieve, but there are times when it occurs. I believe that the best way to prepare for birth is to prepare for some intense contractions versus preparing for a pain-free birth. That way, it is not a shock when you feel things other than joy and bliss while working hard to bring your baby into the world.

Everyone experiences labor slightly differently, so the best way to determine whether you are in labor is to listen to your body and what it tells you. Trust your inner knowing; it will guide you to know your needs and when to call the midwife or go to the hospital.

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