Contractions are the periodic tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscles. They can be felt in different ways. Most commonly, a contraction is perceived as starting in the back and radiating to the front. The abdomen becomes very hard to the touch. Some women felt their contractions or discomfort just in the lower back or hip area. Many women describe contractions as exaggerated menstrual cramps or pressure in the groin or upper thighs. Others perceive contractions as severe gas pains, which they sometimes confuse with flu symptoms or intestinal disorders.
A contraction gradually builds in intensity until it reaches a peak, or strongest point. Then it gradually subsides. It is described by many women as a wave action. (See Figure 6.3). Contractions are intermittent, with a rest period following each one. When timing contractions, time them from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. The easiest way to time contractions is to write down the time each one starts. You can also note the duration in seconds. A sample chart of timed contractions is presented in Table 6.1. Using this chart, you would tell your caregiver, “The contractions started at 10:00 and were 10 minutes apart, lasting 45 seconds. Now they are 3 to 4 minutes apart, lasting 60 to 65 seconds”.
|Start of Contraction||Duration of Contraction|