Contractions: What You Can Expect, How to Know It’s Time for You to Head to Your Birth Place, & How to Keep Track

Show Notes:

[1:11] Our reviewer of the week, Lexi Nuttman, says, “First time mom . . . feeling EMPOWERED! Hello there, I am a first time mom and about halfway through my pregnancy. Since listening to this podcast (more like binging the podcast), I have learned SO much about what type of birth I want. I am feeling so confident and empowered to start this journey. I loved the podcasts so much I decided to join the birth class . . . loving it so far. Thanks so much for this information and pros and cons of everything!

Update: second time around and STILLLLLL learning new information and binging this podcast! :)

We love that you guys are here to stay and continually doing the work! This is why I do what I do! 💜

[2:13] I hope this week’s topic really resonates with you guys. I’ve said it before, I think the most exciting part of pregnancy (other than finding out you’re pregnant!) is figuring out that you’re in labor! 🥳

Most births are not like the movies. They don’t typically start with a massive gush of water followed by insanely intense contractions that have mom rushing to the hospital. 🚑 That’s not to say a birth can’t start with your waters breaking and even immediate contractions, but most often, you’re going to have some time to ease into labor. 

[3:40] With that in mind, I’m going to walk you through what you can expect with those first contractions, what you can do to help manage them as they increase in intensity and consistency, and how you can easily keep track if you want to. 📝

[4:02] What do contractions feel like? A lot of this is individual, but most of it sounds very familiar. So let’s talk about Braxton Hicks first. They are “practice contractions” or a tightening or your uterus. They can be brought on by activity and go away/space out when activity stops. 🤰🏼

[7:09] Prodromal labor feels different than Braxton Hicks. They are “real” contractions that can bring your baby closer to arriving, but they fizzle out. 😭

[7:39] Labor contractions will feel like a tightening of your uterus that eventually (once stronger) takes your breath away. They may feel like period cramps around your lower back and then wrap around from back to front. 😣

[9:42] You will eventually have to pause and focus your breathing during contractions. At the beginning, you’re able to talk through them and move around. 🚶🏻‍♀️

[10:15] The most common thing I hear as a doula when trying to decide if mama is in labor or not is “I have cramping in my lower back that wraps around to the front.” This is when you make the call to your doula to give her a heads up, but it’s usually not time to head to your birth place. 📞

[11:28] Real labor contractions become longer, stronger, and closer together. The may start out 20-30 seconds but be pretty spaced out. They will then increase to lasting for 1 minutes and be 5, 4, or 3 minutes apart. ⏰

[12:50] Let’s talk about how to work through contractions! Number 1 . . . try to ignore your contractions! Just continue going about your day. You will drive yourself crazy! 🤯

[14:03] Change up your activity! Get up and move around, take a break, eat something (protein rich snack!), take a bath or shower, etc. 🥑

[14:45] Heat and dehydration can bring on labor. Drink, drink your water! 💦

[15:59] Something that’s interesting to think about . . . most women start labor in the middle of the night at home, in their bed. Even animals instinctually nest and have a place where they feel safe, secure, and quiet. 😴

[17:18] If you’re sleeping or resting, ignore your contractions as long as possible. Take deep belly breaths. 😮‍💨

[17:49] Distract yourself! Go out to dinner, go shopping, watch a show, take a walk, listen to the My Essential Birth Podcast, etc. Have someone go with you! Here’s my ad for Target: walk around, look at all the pretty things, squat if you need to. 🛍️

[20:26] Once things get moving, try different positions:

  •  Side-lying
  •  Sitting on a couch/chair
  •  Walking around leaned over a chair
  •  Bounce on the birth ball
  •  Lay in the bath

[23:17] This is a great time to focus and get in the zone by sitting in the baby’s room, make sure the birth bag is ready to go, or just enjoy those special final moments of being together before baby comes into your home! 🏡

[25:33] When is it time to go to your birth place? I say 3-1-1 all the time. Contractions are 3 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute, and has been happening for 1 hour. This is the “sweet spot” if you’re wanting to minimize interventions. 🏥

[26:37] ⚠️ This is definitely an episode for your birth partner to listen to so they can know how to support you. ⚠️ Since they will be your eyes for when it’s time to go, they need to know what to look for.

[27:20] Birth partners, I want you to pay attention to mom’s attitude! If she’s anxious, excited, and still walking/talking through contractions, it probably means she’s still got a while to go. If mom is settled, focused, and working with her eyes closed, breathing deeply, and not talking during contractions, it’s getting close to go time! 🤩

[30:40] How do I time my contractions? I have a few apps that I use (and I'll share the pros and cons):

  • Contraction Timer & Counter 9m (this is not one of my favorites) 🤷🏻‍♀️
  • Contraction Timer - Time Labor
  • Full Term (I have used this one consistently over the last 12 years) 🥰
  • You can definitely just use a piece of paper to keep track. 😉

[37:00] You’re going to start the timer at the beginning of the contraction and end the timer at the end of the contraction. It can be a little tricky to figure out when the contraction is over, but if you’re able to take a deep breath and relax. 🎢

[38:20] When you’re trying to figure out how far apart your contractions are, it’ll be the start of one contraction to the start of the next contraction. ⏳

[39:11] Quick Tip when speaking to your provider! When you call your birth place, how you talk to them MATTERS! They will ask you about length and duration of your contractions, what the contractions feel like, how long you’ve been having them, etc. 👩🏻‍⚕️

[40:31] ❗️ If you’re before 36 weeks, call your provider on your way in to your birth place if your water has broken, or contractions are becoming longer, stronger, and closer together without letting up. â—️

[41:31] If you are past the 36 week mark, you now have some great tips and tricks to figure out if you’re having contractions, what to do during contractions, and when to head in to your birth place. 😊

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ALL the best,


Links Mentioned:

My Essential Birth Course

My Essential Birth Instagram

Contraction Timer & Counter 9m

Contraction Timer - Time Labor

Full Term - Contraction Timer


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