C is for Contractions

We are celebrating our group prenatal class with the ABCs of prenatal classes. From A to Z let’s cover some common prenatal terms, C is for Contractions, and what you can learn about them from our class.

The ABCs of prenatal classes: C is for Contractions

Cookie monster might disagree with this one but contractions are the driving force behind birth so they are pretty important! Contractions are responsible for all of the changes that have to happen in order for a baby to come out: the softening, dilation, and effacement of the cervix (opening of the uterus) and pushing. During labor, contractions increase in intensity and frequency so that you can meet your baby.

In the simplest description, the uterus is a giant muscle and a contraction is the coordinated shortening of the uterine muscle cells. It happens in a wave where some cells begin to contract and others follow suit until the uterus feels hard all over and then cells begin to relax. What this means is that the intensity of a contraction builds, peaks and then releases. So once you reach the peak of a contraction, everything gets easier from there. Also there are breaks between contractions and you can use them to your advantage.


What does a contraction feel like? It’s complicated because everyone experiences them differently. We know that people often describe early labor as feeling like menstrual cramps or upset intestinal feelings. But I have had people tell me these comparisons are hogwash. Your perception of the sensations can also play a role in how you experience them so finding a good balance in your expectations can be important. Fearful and anxious isn’t the best way to approach contractions but expecting a painfree labor might not be realistic either.

What we cover about contractions in our prenatal class

Should I time my contractions? What might I expect in a pattern of contractions?

How do I distinguish between “real” and “false” (Braxton-Hicks) contractions?

Coping techniques for early and active labor contractions.

Interesting facts about contractions

The uterine muscle cells are thought to coordinate contractions in a way that is similar to how the wave begins at a soccer game. A few people start it up and everyone follows suit. It’s not always the same person who starts the wave and you need a lot of participation for it to work!

Oxytocin, the molecule of love and bonding, plays a big role in contractions. Oxytocin also has a role in orgasm and breastfeeding, two other contractility events.

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