Because contractions generally signal that labor is
starting, they can be viewed as a warning sign, a green light or a cue to ask,
"Honey, the crib is set up, right?" But having contractions before you're due
doesn't necessarily mean that Baby has requested an early checkout from Hotel
Utero. Here's what you need to know about uterine contractions—whenever they
Early contractions. You can experience
contractions even in the first trimester as your body adjusts to the pregnancy.
The stretching of the ligaments around the uterus can cause contractions, as
can dehydration, constipation and gas pains. If they're accompanied by
spotting, bleeding and/or abdominal pain, you need to see a doc to rule out an
ectopic pregnancy or a potential miscarriage.
Test yourself. While there are many
things you need medical professionals for (we don't advocate DIY ultrasounds,
for example), you can perform a self-test to see if you're feeling true
contractions: Lie down and place a hand on your uterus. If your entire uterus
is hard during the cramping, it's probably a contraction. If it's hard in one
place and soft in others, it may just be the baby moving around.
Preterm contractions. Many contractions that occur after week 34 are random and irregular; these are
known as Braxton-Hicks contractions. If contractions come regularly every 10 minutes or less rather
than intermittently, you may be in preterm labor. Report any contractions to
your doctor or midwife so she can determine what's happening.
Soothing moves. If you're not having
regular contractions signaling preterm labor, try calming the cramps by
drinking plenty of water, taking a warm bath, emptying your bladder and
Sex contractions. If you have a normal,
uncomplicated pregnancy, orgasms—with or without intercourse—don't increase the
risk of premature labor. Likewise, sex isn't likely to trigger labor even as
your due date approaches.
If you're close to your due date. While there's no need to time yourself like Olympian Usain Bolt in a 100-meter
dash, you or your partner do want to start noting how long the contractions
last and the length of the time between them (measured from the beginning of
one contraction to the beginning of the next). Are these contractions coming in
regular intervals, spaced closely and so painful that it's hard to talk during
them (as opposed to little twinges)? You're considered to be in active labor if
you have contractions that last for about a minute and come regularly more
often than every five minutes.
If you're very uncomfortable during the contractions
or if you live far from the hospital or birthing center, your doctor or midwife
may recommend that you come in. You'll be assessed every two hours to determine
whether or not you're in active labor.
A note about bleeding. Bleeding, whether or not it's accompanied by contractions, is always worth
discussing with your doctor or midwife. But not all causes are serious: For
example, it's common to experience a small amount of bright red bleeding during
intercourse, especially during the first trimester. This bleeding is caused
when capillaries in the cervix, which are swollen during pregnancy, become
irritated and burst.