What Does Labour Really Feel Like?

By Jill Bach

December 20, 2019

Labour. It’s a crazy, scary, thrilling and unpredictable process. A woman’s body is capable of some pretty amazing things and labour is definitely one of them. It is different for every woman and every pregnancy. As someone who has done it twice and seen thousands, I still have a hard time describing it. 

Labour is the process of delivering the baby, ideally at the end of the third trimester of your pregnancy. There are four stages of labour and each stage can feel different. Stage one (stage one is further broken down to early, active, and transition), stage two, stage three and stage four. 

Do keep in mind that labour pain is different than other types of pain. Where most pain is your body telling you something is wrong, labour is your body doing something good and normal. Although it is very strong and intense when you are not having a contraction you have no pain. That is your time to rest, recoup and get ready for the next contraction. 

Stage one

Early – Early labour is the most unpredictable. Contractions are irregular, mild and may come and go over several days or weeks. The pain is mostly menstrual-like cramping. The pain is felt along the lower abdomen and back. Most women are able to walk and talk through these contractions. Sleep may be difficult but it is best to balance your time between being up and active and resting. Your cervix is usually open to about 4 cms and the end of early labour. 

Active – Active labour is much more predictable. Contractions are more regular and do not stop no matter when you are doing. Ideally, contractions are every 2-3 min lasting about 1 min. The pain in active labour is much stronger and is usually felt all over your abdomen and back. It is often described as sharp and squeezing. It can also be felt in your upper legs. Some women have very intense back pain called back labour. Once you are having regular painful contractions and your cervix is dilating you are usually admitted to the hospital or birth center in active labour. 

Transition – Transition labour is when your body is getting ready to push the baby out. This stage can be very intense. Women often get some anxiety and feel like they can no longer ‘do this’. They can get shaky and nauseous. On top of the pain of the contractions, there can also be some very intense pressure. This is usually felt in the vagina and rectum. At the end of the transition, you are 10 cm dilated and ready to push your baby out. 

Stange two

Stage two is the process of pushing the baby out. The pain of contractions becomes less but the pressure and an urge to push becomes very strong. The pressure will continue and get stronger until the baby is born. Pushing can take anywhere from several hours to minutes. 

Stage three

Stage three is the time between when the baby is born and when the placenta is born. This is usually less than 30 min. The placenta is much easier to deliver than the baby. 

Stage four

Stage four is the first few hours after birth. You may need a few stitches that your doctor or midwife will do. The nurses will also monitor you and your baby closely. You may also feed your baby during this time. You will no longer feel painful contractions or pressure but may be sore and have some uterine cramping (afterpains). 

The pain of labour is different for every woman and pregnancy. If you are ever unsure if the pain you are feeling is normal it best to go get checked by your health care team. You may go to the hospital several times and be sent home before you are admitted in active labour. 

Reach out to your local Mama Coach for private or group prenatal classes where we will go over all this is much more detail. Happy Labouring!

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