Because contractions generally signal that labor is starting, they can be viewed as a warning sign, a green light or a cue to ask, “Honey, the crib is set up, right?” But having contractions before you’re due doesn’t necessarily mean that Baby has requested an early checkout from Hotel Utero. Here’s what you need to know about uterine contractions—whenever they occur:
You can experience contractions even in the first trimester as your body adjusts to the pregnancy. The stretching of the ligaments around the uterus can cause contractions, as can dehydration, constipation and gas pains. If they’re accompanied by spotting, bleeding and/or abdominal pain, you need to see a doc to rule out an ectopic pregnancy or a potential miscarriage.
While there are many things you need medical professionals for (we don’t advocate DIY ultrasounds, for example), you can perform a self-test to see if you’re feeling true contractions: Lie down and place a hand on your uterus. If your entire uterus is hard during the cramping, it’s probably a contraction. If it’s hard in one place and soft in others, it may just be the baby moving around.
Many contractions that occur after week 34 are random and irregular; these are known as Braxton-Hicks contractions. If contractions come regularly every 10 minutes or less rather than intermittently, you may be in preterm labor. Report any contractions to your doctor or midwife so she can determine what’s happening.
If you’re not having regular contractions signaling preterm labor, try calming the cramps by drinking plenty of water, taking a warm bath, emptying your bladder and breathing rhythmically.