Wednesday, 29 July 2009

How can you tell if you’re having a contraction?

So last night we had to pay a visit to the delivery suite. ‘Huh?’ You may be asking. ‘Isn’t it Dancinfairy who’s supposed to be giving birth any second now?’ ‘I know Rosemary was early, but 29 weeks is taking it a bit far!’ Yes, all of this is true. Nonetheless, there were contractions, yesterday.

At about 4pm, while Chris and Rosemary were still out shopping and I was doing a bit of washing up, I stayed having pains. They weren’t too bad, the strength of period pains, probably, but they were leaving a dull ache across the top of the bump and they seemed to be coming in waves and fairly close together. Not regular, though. ‘Those feel a bit like contractions.’ ‘Nah.’ Finish washing up, wipe the table. Feel the need to stand with my arms and head resting on the table. ‘OK. Maybe they are.’

I waited for Chris and Rosemary to come home, pottering about while having a fairly small wave of pain every couple of minutes. While waiting, I recalled that this had happened with Rosemary, too. At about the same time. I remembered going into Gloucester and being strapped up to a machine to listen to the heartbeat and measure contractions. I remember being half-convinced that I was being stupid and silly and someone would tell me it was wind or indigestion or a stomach bug or something. And I remember a midwife pointing out the lines on the paper coming out of the machine and saying ‘Yep. There’s a contraction. And another one. Pretty small, but definitely contractions.’ And I remember the finishing and being able to come home and not having any more until the actual birth.

There wasn’t much pain, really. Perfectly manageable. Just a bit uncomfortable. And last time it had all turned out fine, so maybe I wouldn’t need to go and be checked out. Maybe I could just wait it out and they would go away?

Chris and Rosemary arrived home with exciting tales to tell about meeting a friend in the park and inviting her to Rosemary’s birthday tea and how, after a very difficult time in town where Rosemary was being challenging to say the least, Chris had been able to calm down by talking to another adult and seeing Rosemary being happy and nice. I had to interrupt, to tell him I thought I was having contractions. We talked a bit about what to do and what I was worried about. (It turned out that I was, again, most worried about looking stupid and it turning out to be wind or indigestion.) We decided to call the midwife and see what she thought. She said to see how it went for the next half an hour and if they didn’t go away to call Gloucester and ask them – at this early stage, it’s all about Gloucester.

So… dinner plans changed, as it was already 5pm now, so there was no time to cook the couscous and tomato and chick pea sauce. Rosemary had a bowl of noodles and some cherry tomatoes. I called Eva to come round and be available either for staying with Rosemary or coming with me, if necessary. And we sat and had tea and wrote down timings between contractions. They didn’t go away. They didn’t get worse. They didn’t get better. They just kept going.

So I called the delivery suite and asking a bunch of questions, they said I should come in to be checked out. They thought urinary infection was most likely, as that often manifests as labour pains, and then I remembered them saying the same thing last time. Also remembered that it wasn’t a urinary infection. Fortunately, my aunt (Emma) has just got a new car after being without one and it was evening so there were plenty of people to look after Rupert, so she came and took us to Gloucester. Eva stayed with Rosemary and put her to bed.

And it was all very much like last time. I’m pretty sure Emma was there last time, too. She did end up driving me back and forth from Gloucester hospital a good few times during that pregnancy. There was no urinary infection. There were some (very teeny) contractions. I felt stupid lying there when I was just a bit uncomfortable and not in pain, but it was necessary to rule out early labour.

A doctor came, who was probably at about the same stage in pregnancy as I am (that must be strange, to be expecting yourself and constantly seeing pregnant women with various problems) and talked about a new test to look for a specific protein. This protein comes from the baby and, if it’s present, there’s more likelihood of early labour. If it’s absent, they’re very reassured and early labour is unlikely. The test involves taking a swab directly from the cervix. Oh what fun. She also checked the cervix to make sure it wasn’t open at all. And it wasn’t. And after waiting five minutes the test showed that there was none of the protein there (one line for negative, two for positive – rather like another test with which we are familiar).

Various possibilities were suggested, from overdoing it (I did the washing up, surely that’s not overdoing it?), to stress (not really, a bit busy with work, I suppose, but nothing else worrying), to just one of those things. I’m inclined to go for the latter, especially as it happened last time.

We left the delivery suite and opposite it is the corridor that leads down to the SCBU. A very familiar corridor to both of us and one that didn’t really bring back happy memories. I turned left to go to the loo – knew exactly where it was, even though it was three years since I’d used it. And then went out to the car to drive home. And both of us expressed a desire to never see Gloucester hospital again. Because, if we don’t, that means everything will be fine and we’ll get to have the birth in Stroud Maternity instead. Please.

So… all is well that ends well, as they say. A little scare, but I never really thought I was going into early labour. They most certainly didn’t feel like the real thing, which brings me to the question in the post title. How can you tell if you’re having a contraction? Well, if it’s a proper, labour contraction, sorry to repeat the annoying mantra you’ll have heard a million times, you will know. There is really no mistaking it. That’s my experience, anyway. Mild contractions like yesterday, though, it’s all about the waves of pain that travel down the bump. You may also feel your bump harden, though I didn’t really notice that – to be honest it feels hard all the time! The real thing has those waves of pain, too, but they really really really hurt. They may well double you over with pain. And they’ll last longer, too. If they’re very close together, you may just be getting over one when the next one starts. But you’ll know.

Anyone else have a better description for those who have yet to experience it?


  1. My contractions with Fifi started whilst I was cooking hubby a sausage sandwich. At first I thought I just had a tummy ache, they got steadily worse over the next 18 hours. At first I didn't know what they were! With Toddler boy, I only had back contactions, if you can get those, I think they are far more preferable...

  2. Can't describe contractions any better, but it sounds to me as though you have a sure fire excuse to get out of doing the dishes for the next 11 weeks. Good on ya

  3. I think the problem is, it is so different for many people, so no I can't offer a better description either!
    But all is well and you're joking about it now, which is the most important thing!

  4. Mine just really, really hurt from the off. None of this mild stuff, nope full on, really hurting, and for 36 hours!!

  5. I'm so glad it was just a scare and not the real thing.
    My early contractions felt like tummy ache, then bad period pains, below the bump. I only ever felt the contractions below my bump. No one had mentioned this could happen. I was expecting to be able to feel my whole bump contract, but it didn't.

  6. There is no describing them other than sheer hell! Your right you definately KNOW when it's the real deal....good luck hun x

  7. My very first contractions just made me feel breathless. I remember saying "I've lost any space for my lungs". Does that help?

  8. I have to disagree with the 'you'll know it when it comes' thing - I had contractions on and off from about 18 weeks in both pregnancies, and when the 'real thing' came, it was no different. I get no pain with the contractions until I'm pretty much fully dilated (then it hurts like f***), just a slight bump ache and a tightening which turns my stomach pyramid-shaped. On each occasion the midwives haven't believed I was really in labour, because I wasn't in pain.
    I so hope you're feeling better - what a scary experience for you to go through. I always found my contractions came on when I exerted myself, so take it easy and don't run around after R too much xx

  9. Interesting how different it is for everyone! Your description sounds very much like how it felt for me. I had a miscarriage before my first at 12 weeks, and that pain was very similar to the pain of labor, so when labor started I was pretty sure it was for real.
    My personal theory about these early contractions is that your uterus is just making sure everything is working, like a plane revving up its engines.
    Very best of luck with the next one, hope she stays in for a bit longer!

  10. Zooarchaeologist: Hmm. A lot of people seem to have them worsen over time. Mine just started bad and stayed bad for the next six hours. I suppose, considering that they can start off milder, it was the right thing to go and get checked out, just in case!

    Home Office Mum: I did get told off for doing a few dishes yesterday, actually. We need to get the dishwasher fixed, then it won't be an issue!

    Tara: It does sound like it's very different for different people. How annoying! Yes, all is fine. I wasn't really worried, but was right to get checked out, I think.

    Yummy Mammy: 36 hours! And I thought 6 hours was hell. I don't envy you.

    Sandy: It seems, from the comments on this post, that there are many different ways for contractions to manifest. Not sure how helpful that it is for the people yet to experience them, but I guess we can't argue with nature!

    Wife of bold: Thanks. All quiet now, so hopefully it will all be fine for at least 8 weeks, now!

    Iota: Well, I constantly feel like I don't have the space for my lungs, but that might be from my asthma. It's interesting how much it seems to differ from woman to woman.

    MTJAM: Oh blimey. From 18 weeks? So how did you know you were in labour, if you weren't in excruciating pain? I suppose there are definite benefits, though, especially if the contractions last a long time, before you're fully dilated. Did you have to go and get checked out every time you had early contractions?

    I am not doing too much running around. No carrying, except in emergencies, and mostly just sitting down to play, rather than the usual gymnastics!

    Geekymummy: I think you may be right about them being like practice contractions and warming things up. Seems they're not too uncommon. But hopefully I won't have anymore until the real ones in at least 8 weeks!

  11. Glad to hear you are fine. I remember in the week or so when monkey was overdue thinking 'this is it' a couple of times as I was having regular, fairly strong but not that painful contractions in runs of an hour or two and then they'd stop again. Really annoying. I was like you though; when I was actually in labour I knew about it immediately although the pain was concentrated in my back.

    I guess it's different for everyone.