What Are Contractions?

The actual definition of “Contraction” is:

The tightening and shortening of the uterine muscles during labor causing effacement and dilation of the cervix and contributing to the descent of the baby.

But, what does this mean?

Basically, contractions feel like cramping, or a tightening sensation that waves across your abdomen.  Sometimes, they start in your back and move around to the front, near your belly button.  When you are having contractions, your abdomen will tighten up, much like when you have a cramp in your leg and it tightens up.  Contractions cause the upper part of the uterus to tighten and thicken, and the cervix and lower part of the uterus to relax and stretch – thus pushing the baby out of the uterus.

Contractions start when something triggers the pituitary gland (a pea sized organ at the base of the brain) to release a hormone called oxytocin.  Oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions.  Because we aren’t sure what triggers the pituitary gland to release the oxytocin, no one is sure when labor – or contractions will actually begin.

Contractions may be irregular at first, but gradually will become regular.  As time progresses they will get longer and stronger and will get closer together.  If you walk during contractions they will usually get stronger and lying down will not make them go away.

What Are Contractions?