12 Women Share What a Contraction Really Feels Like

what-labor-felt-like
Image adapted via Flickr/ Joe Shlabotnik

As your pregnant body begins to take shape and your due date draws closer, you'll probably find yourself wondering what labor and contractions are going to feel like. If you've not experienced them, the idea of “extreme pain” can be frightening.

But no two women are the same, and no two women can describe what a contraction actually feels like for anyone else. And, while they are painful, they're painful with the happy ending of a baby in your arms, so even most women who describe it as the worst pain ever will tell you it's worth it.

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Contractions, for me, felt like nothing I'd ever experienced before. They're a weird pain that radiate across your abdomen like a leg cramp, but all over. It was painful, but it is hard to compare to other causes of pain because this one I knew was going to happen.

If you're wondering what labor contractions feel like, since no woman experiences it the same, here are 12 descriptions from 12 women who have experienced them firsthand.

Lightning

“Labor pains felt like being struck by lighting, first coming periodically and leaving me befuddled (why would I do this to myself?) and pondering my agonizing future (why me, Lord?), and then continuously giving me little doubt that my future was filled with doom.

“I swore I would never forget the feeling, and [I] focused on remembering the pain. Then, all of a sudden, it was over, and there was this beautiful fuzzy-headed little boy, who must have come with an unheard clap of thunder that totally erased any real memory of the agony.” – P.D.

Flu aches

“With my two girls, the pain was all in the bottom half of my back — almost like the flu with body aches, but centralized in my back. That's how it started. As it progressed, the pain was towards the front with severe cramps and burning. When the baby was ready to come out, the pain was excruciating, and I definitely needed to hold onto something. That's exactly what my hubby was for. By the time we were done, his hand was black and blue from [my] holding it so hard.

“For my boy, I didn't have the back pain; however, the pain was even more excruciating than the [girls' births]. Ever watch the movie Alien? Well, it felt like an alien was ripping through my stomach with its humongous head because it was lost and couldn't find its way through the tunnel. I definitely needed an epidural for that birth, which was the best feeling in the world after it took effect.” — Lillian

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Severe cramps

“I didn't expect labor to feel like really severe menstrual cramps. And that's exactly what it felt like. The cramping feeling got stronger and more severe as labor progressed. I also had back labor, which felt like strong, shooting lower back pain that lasted for about 1.5 minutes. I didn't realize I was in labor until I was experiencing this back pain every seven minutes.” — Julie

Unrelenting

“An unrelenting menstrual cramp.” – Wendi

Needing to …

“Menstrual cramps/needing to poop times a billion.” – Monica

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Image via Flickr/ Sharon Mollerus

No comparison

“Can't compare it to anything! Just need to focus and get through each contraction. I was amazed how quickly I forgot about the pain, though.” – Holly

Spine ripped out

“I had all back labor and, more than once, compared it to having my spine ripped out of my, um, backside.” – Terra

Muscle soreness

“For me, contractions were something in between … exercising with strong muscle soreness and a cramp you experience in a leg sometimes. But many times harder.”

{ MORE: Coping with Traumatic Birth }

Menstruation

“Overwhelming menstrual cramps that you feel all over your stomach, not just in your lower abdomen. That doesn't even really do them justice, though.” – Devon

Numb

“I would agree with the thought of the very strongest menstrual cramp, but radiating throughout your whole lower body and back. It makes you feel a little numb and unable to do anything else.” – Christina

Frustration as pain

“Envision pushing a football though a key hole. Now after trying for 12-24 hours, think of the frustration you are experiencing. Now convert that frustration to pain, and that's pretty much how I describe labor.” – Kelly

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Image via Flickr/ federico_mena_quintero

Being skinned

“Being peeled like a banana or, more vividly, skinned like a dead animal.” – Lori

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How would you describe what a contraction feels like? Share in the comments!

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12 Women Share What a Contraction Really Feels Like

Devan McGuinness is the founder of the online resource Unspoken Grief, which is dedicated to breaking the silence of perinatal grief for those directly and indirectly affected by miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. Using her own experience of surviving 12 miscarriages, Devan has been actively supporting and encouraging others who are wading through the challenges associated with perinatal and neonatal loss. Winner of the 2012 Bloganthropy Award and named one of Babble's “25 bloggers wh ... More

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16 comments

  1. Profile photo of Tawny Tawny says:

    It felt like horrible menstral cramps…no back labor for me and I was able to have my baby girl au nautral-drug free! Can’t wait to do it again and compare the birth experience in 3 months!

  2. Profile photo of Nia Nia says:

    Contractions to me felt like I had to poop really bad and it also felt as if the baby was coming out of my ass. I kept asking the doctor’s did I feces and they were like no and I was like Yess!! Glory to God that He got me through each pregnancy and now I am blessed with3 healthy beautiful little girls:)

  3. Profile photo of BillyJ BillyJ says:

    ATTN: Summer27Rayne & Whomever –
    *…you forget the pain when you see that little miracle safe in your arms.” *I was delivered of four (4) healthy babies – for which I am VERY GRATEFUL that ALL WERE HEALTHY! *The eldest is NOW 62. *The youngest is NOW 53

    • Profile photo of BillyJ BillyJ says:

      *FURTHER – my #4-child was delivered via HYPNOSIS – back in 1962. *HOWEVER – it was January 1962, below 0, Central Michigan. *It was BLIZZARD CONDITIONS and a 45-minute drive to the hospital. *I was awake and cognizant the entire time during the drive AND during delivery! – *AND did NOT have any shots, etc. *DOC said I was fully dilated AND HAD NO incision or stitches! *AND the windows in the delivery room were ALL OPEN! **AND I am very susceptible to static electricity!! *I was far more concerned about getting “an electrical shock” by the doctor and attending nurses than by any “labor pains”! *It was also a “full moon” AND there were SO MANY babies delivered that night – **THAT MY BABY BOY, and those other babies delivered that cold January morning, HAD TO BE PLACED IN WELL-LINED BUREAU DRAWER!! *BECAUSE ALL THE BASSINETS WERE ALREADY OCCUPIED!! *That “baby boy” is NOW 53 and has 4-grandchildren of his own! *HE ALSO NOW LIVES IN TUCSON, AZ! *Wonder if that is a”sub-conscious” choice and has any thing to do with His being delivered on a below 0, January winter night in Central Michigan??

    • Profile photo of BillyJ BillyJ says:

      **TO CONTINTUE – I keep hitting the wrong keys. *The youngest is NOW 53 with (4) grandchildren of his own. *HOWEVER – even so – I DO REMEMBER THE “DISCOMFORT” OF LABOR. *I was NEVER in labor for more that 6-1/2 hrs – THE TERM “LABOR” IS WELL SAID! *Lengthy or short – LABOR IS HARD WORK!!

  4. For me it felt like doing sit-ups for hours. My muscles were so sore. Until I was dilated at a 8 or 9 then I couldn’t feel my hips and it started feeling like menstrual cramps not to severe. After I was fully dilated my water broke and I got this false sense of relief and no pain. Then it felt like a rock just plunked down inside. After that it felt like a rug burn, that was probably the most painful part. Like other people have said, you forget the pain when you see that little miracle safe in your arms.
    People think I’m crazy, but there’s something about being in labor that I love and sometimes crave.

  5. Profile photo of Amy Amy says:

    I had six children and no epidurals with any of them. I had a muscle relaxant with my first and some sort of opiate with my second that didn’t work. I bit my husband’s arm and was begging for something else. With my third I had terrible back labor and begged for something for the pain to no avail. After about 20 hours of excruciating labor, my doctor popped in and said she “fell alseep” in the back room and it was too late to get anything as I was ready to deliver. If I would have had the energy and the strength, I think I would have drop kicked her right then and there. My labors were all different in some aspects but each was very painful. I wouldn’t compare the pain to menstrual cramps at all. They are far more intense, agonizing and relentless and the pressure of that descending baby on your hips and cervix is beyond anything I could describe.

  6. Profile photo of BillyJ BillyJ says:

    *The first, of 4 deliveries, I had NO idea as to how to k

    • Profile photo of BillyJ BillyJ says:

      WHOOPS!! *Hit something wrong! *The first, of 4 deliveries, I had NO idea as to how to know when I was in “labor”. *I asked different relatives, friends – but no one wanted to say much in case it would “scare” me. *The doctor said when I had “cramps”. *HOWEVER

      • Profile photo of BillyJ BillyJ says:

        WHOOPS – AGAIN! *The first, of 4 deliveries, I had NO idea as to how to know when I was in “labor”. *I asked different relatives, friends – but no one wanted to say much in case it would “scare” me. *The doctor said when I had “cramps”. *HOWEVER – I NEVER, EVER experienced cramps!
        *My water broke the first time and doctor said to head for hospital. *Once there and prepped, ALL I felt was a PAINFUL BACK ACHE! *When the back ache finally went away – I HAD A BABY GIRL!! *AND that was my experience for the next THREE times! *A REALLY BIG

        • Profile photo of BillyJ BillyJ says:

          WHOOPS – YET AGAIN! *The FIR4 deliveries, I had NO idea as to how to know when I was in “labor”. *I asked different relatives, friends – but no one wanted to say much in case it would “scare” me. *The doctor said when I had “cramps”. *HOWEVER – I NEVER, EVER experienced cramps in my entire life! *Other than a leg cramp. *NO “lightning-like” pains across my stomach! *Only “BIG SEVERE BACK ACHES”! **FOUR backaches resulted in (2) girls and (2) boys! *”LABOR” TAKES MANY FORMS! **AND – I, AT AGE 85, STILL VIVIDLY REMEMBER ALL FOUR (4) “BACKACHES”!! *Think I made it through this time! 😉
          *My water broke the first time and doctor said to head for uthe hospital. *Once there and prepped, ALL I felt was a PAINFUL BACK ACHE! *When the back ache finally went away – I HAD A BABY GIRL!! *AND that was my experience for the next THREE times! *A REALLY BIG BACK ACHE!!

  7. Profile photo of Celia Celia says:

    I had my son Jan 2014 and that was the most HORRIBLE FEELING EVER. I was a day late so my OB swept my membrane. My contractions started in 1 hour and in 5 hours I was in triage. It really feels like some being with razors on its back is LOST in your body and trying to come out from your lady parts! And then after a min or so it’s like nothing happened. You get a few mins to think about your life and if you will live and it starts again. All you have to remember is you will be ok and when you see your little ones face, that pain is automatically GONE! It’s like their face has healing powers 🙂

  8. Profile photo of Regina Regina says:

    Don’t listen to

    • Profile photo of Regina Regina says:

      I only read a couple of these stories and before I gave birth to my son I read story after story of other experiences and I was scared. But to tell a long story short I was induced, no painful contractions for hours, and finally the contractions got strong and I got a epidural. I never planned on not getting a epidural, but it was my first child and waited until I felt I needed one. To the first time moms reading this though: I tasked a nurse when I should get a epidural (if u are planning on getting one) and she said a lot of women get them when they break your water. And the reason why us because there is now no cushion between you and the baby and that’s when you start to feel the pain. Well, I didn’t get the epidural before he broke my water and that’s when the contractions for me started and it was kinda painful. I waited a few hours so it depends on the person. If u plan on a epidural, you will know when the time is right. If your pregnant is scheduled and u want to feel no pain for the most part, get a epidural before they break your water. I hope this helps, don’t be scared, it will be over soon. Good luck to you:)

  9. Profile photo of Ariana Ariana says:

    It felt like I was going to start my period. I had cramps in the abdomen area then like every 15-20 minutes I had a contraction. I don’t think my labor was that bad compare to what other women told me about theirs. I was thinking once my daughter was out the pain will be gone.

    • Profile photo of Victoria Victoria says:

      I was sent in to be induced because of preeclampsia at around 12, they started the Pitocin at 2pm. It felt like waves of menstrual cramps at first getting slightly more intense but bearable. Once I got around 4cm, my water broke on its own (which oddly enough feels like a water balloon straight up exploding in your gut) and thats when the pain started. It started to feel more like the worst cramp youve ever had, but my contractions were so close that there wasnt anymore than a minute relief between them, and I was nowhere near 10cm. I got the IV drug cocktail to help take the edge off, and it helped for all of 15 minutes (they said itd last 1-2hours. Hours, my a**!). Suddenly the contractions felt like a bowling ball being repeatedly slammed into my spome on top of excruciating menstrual cramps. I called for the epidural so she checked me in at 6cm, and while they were doing the epidural the contractions were so close together and the pain so intense I almost passed out twice. I felt a heavy weight just suddenly drop and it felt like having to take the biggest crap of your life, but the crap is too big for your pelvis and its pushing your bones apart. The pain was unbelievable. I started yelling saying “shes coming now. I can feel it. I feel like i have to poop. I feel like I have to poop now. Please. Please when does this kick in?” I was begging, praying, pleading for this pain to stop. She checked me again and I went from 6cm to 10cm within 20minutes.

      Oh baby once that epidural kicked in, that room was silent. the only sound for the rest of the labor was the doctor telling me when to push. No crying, no screaming, no tears or pain.

      Im glad I got the epidural though. I ended up with an episiotomy and a vacuum birth. The stitched would have been a b***h!

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