Just a reminder: if you ever feel concerned at all about your health or your baby’s health, contact your medical care provider. With that out of the way, we also want to remind you to hire a doula! One role doulas help to fulfill is helping you interpret the sensations you may be feeling towards the end of your pregnancy. It’s more difficult to do than you might think, especially if this is your first baby. And if you’re in your third trimester, you might be asking the question: Is it labor if my belly squeezes? Because doulas have observed dozens if not hundreds of labors, we have a pretty good body of knowledge (get it? body?) around the game of “is it labor if…?” (And sometimes nurses’, midwives’ and doctors’ answers to these questions may be just a bit too textbook or clinical to be 100% useful. No offense.) One of the gifts a doula brings to the table is perspective. Because we have that experience, but not quite enough experience that labor is totally mundane to us, we can answer these questions with quite a bit of precision as well as empathy! So here goes… Is it labor if you feel a squeezing in your belly, also known as, what is a Braxton Hicks contraction? The short answer is: probably not yet. But you probably already knew that.
The most reliable way to tell whether you’re really in labor is that you’ve been able to track your contractions reliably. Contractions will be long, strong and close together. They will also be in a very consistent pattern. They will stay in this consistent pattern regardless of your body’s position or your activity level (and you’ve probably tried every position in the book by this point). If this is all true, then it’s probably labor or at least getting close to real labor. Does this always mean you have to rush to the hospital? No, not always. But it probably means it’s a good idea to pack your last-minute things and steadily make your way to your place of birth (or call the midwife to say, “this is it,” if they’ll be joining you in your home).
So what do we mean by long, strong and close together? And consistent? This generally means that each contraction lasts close to a minute long, each one is described as “strong” or “very strong,” and you can no longer talk through them or do much of anything except breathe. If this is how you’re feeling them, then you’re also likely to be noticing that the sensation is starting every 3 to 5 minutes and lasting a minute long each time. So that’s what we mean by consistent. Have you taken a bath? Did the contractions continue happening every 4 to 5 minutes? Did you go for a walk? Did the contractions continue happening every 4 to 5 minutes? If all this happened within the span of a couple of hours, then it’s a pretty good sign that labor is underway, especially if you’ve noticed a bit of blood when using the restroom. (Another post on that coming soon!)
As for whether it’s labor if your belly squeezes, if you’ve felt a sensation of squeezing, tightening, a hardness in your belly, or even something like a balloon blowing up inside your belly, that’s probably a Braxton Hicks or a “practice” contraction. These are generally painless and are simply the muscles warming up to get ready to do what they will need to do in labor to move your baby down through your birth canal. If you’re feeling squeezes in your belly try not to worry — just drink a lot of water, or take a bath, or both, and usually this will help to calm any non-labor, late pregnancy sensations you may be feeling. If you are feeling more than 4 painful, crampy and/or strong contractions per hour AND you are earlier than 36 weeks pregnant, be sure to call your care provider. Usually when this happens it’s a sign of dehydration, but it could be a sign of pre-term labor so make sure you let them know about it so they can recommend a course of action. Thanks for reading and take care of you!