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How Long Can I Feel Contractions Before "This is IT?"

Are these contractions "IT?"

I remember, with my first pregnancy, hearing all about Braxton-Hicks…yet having basically no idea what they felt like.  How could I?  They tend to be rather mild and easily forgettable, if you’ve never had contractions before.  I really didn’t notice anything until the last couple of days before I went into labor, and of course once I was actually in labor.

This time things have gone…a bit differently.  Which is typical in subsequent pregnancies.  So how long can you feel contractions — either Braxton-Hicks or “real” ones — before this is really “IT?”

It’s actually true that contractions start happening almost immediately, because your uterus has to stretch to accomodate your growing baby.  By the time you are towards the end of the first trimester, you may notice these contractions.  They are normal!  They should simply feel like a tightening of your entire uterus, not accompanied by cramping, back pain, spotting, or dilation.  If you note any of those symptoms, please call your doctor immediately.

As you progress in your pregnancy, you will notice these contractions more frequently.  Especially in the third trimester you may notice them a lot.  They can be brought on by too much physical activity or not drinking enough water (or electrolyte drink).  They should not come regularly, should be only the tightening, and should stop — mostly — if you rest with your feet up and get hydrated.

As you approach your due date, it can be normal for the contractions to start feeling crampy and having a sharper edge.  It can even be normal for them to get into a regular pattern for awhile and cause some (slight) dilation, before slowing and stopping.  This is very common in the last weeks of pregnancy.  I had an episode about 10 days before my son was due (I was just past 37 weeks at the time) where I had regular, mild contractions for about 3 hours, and dilated from 1 to 3.  But then it stopped.

It is not uncommon for second or later-time mothers to walk around dilated up to 5 cm for weeks before baby comes!  (As long as you are not having signs of preterm labor — and your doctor can do a test, fetal fibronectin test, to check if you are likely to have the baby in the next couple of days, if you are at risk.)

These “fake” contractions (which are really preparing your body for the real thing) can continue, essentially, for months before you ever go into labor.  This pregnancy, I started to notice them at 14 weeks.  I’ve noticed them more frequently now (33 weeks) though there’s no actual changes (dilation) going on yet.  I assume it’ll keep getting more frequent, and eventually closer to ‘real’ as I approach my due date!

Some women even note that they start having contractions for a few hours every night, in their last few weeks.  And one night, they finally feel a bit “different” — and that’s “IT!”  It can be hard to tell at first, but generally, if the contractions are causing cramping (I feel them low when they’re real), back pain, and are getting longer, stronger, and closer together, and do not change if you get up, sit down, drink water…it’s probably the real thing!

How long did you feel contractions before you finally had your baby?

Top image by spaceodissey

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