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Uterine Contractions

The uterus is the organ that your baby will live and grow in from the moment of conception until birth. The uterus is, therefore, a truly remarkable organ, and it is worth knowing a little bit about. Why does the uterus contract? The uterus has a thick muscular wall, made of smooth muscle fibres. These fibres have a normal property of contracting periodically. The fibres are involuntary muscle fibres, unlike your arm and leg muscles, for example, which you voluntarily move. Interestingly, throughout your lifetime, these fibres contract from time to time. Mostly you only feel this when it is stronger. For example, the cramping associated with your period (menstrual cramps), or during late pregnancy and particularly of course in labour.

Will I feel contractions in my pregnancy before labour? Yes, almost all women will feel occasional irregular tightening of their uterus especially in the late third trimester from around 36 weeks. They tend to be painless and not often in your first pregnancy, and are often called “Braxton-Hicks contractions”. Don’t worry if you don’t feel them. In each subsequent pregnancy they become more noticeable and on occasion are a little painful, but remain irregular.

So how will I know if the contractions I am feeling are the beginning of my labour? Usually, labour contractions commence slowly, especially with your first pregnancy. All women are different but the following is a common pattern for first time mothers-to-be. Initially, contractions can be 20-30 minutes apart and may last less than 30 seconds, however, they will gradually become closer together and last longer. Over the next few hours they will become more rhythmic and machine-like. During this time, you may want to check you have everything ready for the trip to hospital, go for a gentle walk, try two paracetamol tablets, take a shower or use a heatpack. Drink plenty of water and maybe have a light snack or two. As they approach 5 minutes apart, regularly for an hour, this is a good time to ring the midwife in delivery suite and update them with what you are noticing. You will need to come into hospital soon. Often by this stage the contractions are lasting 30-60 seconds and becoming stronger. It’s possible, during these contractions you can’t chat away to your partner and need to concentrate and gently breath through the discomfort until it passes. Your waters may still not have broken, this is an unpredictable event.

What if my waters break before I have any contractions? Don’t worry! This is not uncommon and not a cause for alarm. Please ring the midwife in delivery suite and inform them as to what has happened. You will be invited to come to hospital for a check up, and I will be notified upon your arrival as to how you and your babies observations are. Once you are reviewed I can decide if you can go home for a while, and await the onset of labour contractions, or if you need to stay in hospital for further assessment.

Why does the uterus contract? The uterus has a thick muscular wall, made of smooth muscle fibres. These fibres have a normal property of contracting periodically. The fibres are involuntary muscle fibres, unlike your arm and leg muscles for example which you voluntarily move. Interestingly, through out your life time, these fibres contract from time to time. Mostly you only feel this when it is stronger. For example the cramping associated with your period ( menstrual cramps), or during late pregnancy and particularly of course in labour.

Will I feel contractions in my pregnancy before labour?

Yes, almost all women will feel occasional irregular tightenings of their uterus especially in the late third trimester from around 36 weeks. They tend to be painless and not often in the first pregnancy, and are often called “Braxton-Hicks contractions”. Don’t worry if you don’t feel them. In each subsequent pregnancy they become more noticeable and on occasion are a little painful, but remain irregular.

So how will I know if the contractions I am feeling are the beginning of my labour?

Usually, labour contractions commence slowly, especially with your first pregnancy. All women are different but the following is a common pattern for first-time mothers-to-be. Initially, contractions can be 20-30 minutes apart and may last less than 30 seconds, however, they will gradually become closer together and last longer. Over the next few hours they will become more rhythmic and machine like. During this time, you may want to check you have everything ready for the trip to hospital, go for a gentle walk, try two paracetamol tablets, take a shower or use a heatpack. Drink plenty of water and maybe have a light snack or two. As they approach 5 minutes apart regularly for an hour, this is a good time to ring the midwife in delivery suite and update her with what you are noticing. You will need to come into hospital soon. Often by this stage, the contractions are lasting 30-60 seconds and becoming stronger. It’s possible, during these contractions you can’t chat away to your partner and need to concentrate and gently breath through the discomfort until it passes. Your waters may still not have broken, this is an unpredictable event.

What if my waters break before I have any contractions?

Don’t worry! This is not uncommon and not a cause for alarm. Please ring the midwife in the delivery suite and inform them as to what has happened. You will be invited to come to the hospital for a check-up, and I will be notified upon your arrival as to how you and your babies observations are. Once you are reviewed I can decide if you can go home for a while and await the onset of labour contractions or need to stay in the hospital for further assessment.