That's when you wake, covered in sweat and panting like you see them do in movies about birth from the 80's (Lamaze baby!) and all you can think is "If I just knew what labor contractions felt like I could be certain my nightmares are not going to become a reality."
So here's where I get real, I hate to break it to you but you might not know your contractions are contractions at first. You might just feel off or menstrual crampy, but most likely your labor will take time to build. Eventually, it will just click and you will realize you've been laboring all along.
BUT because I know this is a question in the forefront of the minds of first time mothers everywhere, I asked some of the women in my life to share what labor contractions felt like to them and have compiled their responses below. Some of these are a little intimidating (you have been warned) so if you're planning a hypno-birth, it's time to hit the Back button.
"...like strong waves washing over me." -Terra
"Early contractions were like cramps in my lower abdominals.
Later contractions were the most intense feeling I've ever felt, with my whole stomach and insides feeling like it was squeezing itself together. Paired with the most awful lower back pain that nothing seemed to help. Each one feeling like they knocked me over so I'd have to lean on something or someone.
Even with that it was still the most amazing experience both times. I'll happily do it again, and look forward to my self-challenge of being better able to cope and relax through them my next time around." - Melyssa
"Like I was hungry with the first 2 because I had an epidural but with Silas like someone was pushing my insides out and my thighs kept cramping like charley horses also I was involuntarily pushing they kept telling me to stop but I couldn't help it." -Delaine
"Heavy, pulling, hard, dull pain in my cervix and bottom. Tightening, building, peaking and waning." -Casondra
"With my 1st child I felt like I needed to poop constantly so much pressure on my tummy and lower back and my 2nd child was like constant kegel (?) muscle exercises but on my tummy." -Sam
"My contractions started as period-like dull ache which intensified. It started with an ache in my lower abdomen, but when they got stronger and more painful they moved and were actually in my bum, like literally right down in my buttocks (not even in my back)." -Ashley
"With my first I too was just hungry and had the epidural by the time they started, with my second about 2 hours after they broke my water it was the most intense "crushing" feeling I could describe, like everything in my body was being compressed!" -Amanda
"Well for me it was scary the first time because no matter how the pain was explained to me, they were all different experience with everyone but similar. So with that in mind my second was more relaxed because I knew what to expect. So unless you really experience it you will always be very nervous I think." -Cindy
"I felt like my hips were crushing into me, my legs would come out from under me, when I was sitting on the toilet it felt like my hips were being pushed into the toilet." -Jenelle
"Early contractions vs contractions at hour 32 very different I will say that!" -Jess
It is extremely unlikely you will not realize you are in labor until you baby's birth is imminent. It's OK if you labor for a few hours without realizing it. If you suspect you are in labor and you are full term, get some rest and eventually you will be sure. Or call your doula! She can help you assess where you are at!
Want to know more about the Stages of Labor? Read on at our blog Stages of Labor, Stages of Support