Contractions feel different for each woman, but they often begin with a dull ache in the abdomen or with a backache, together with a feeling of pressure in the pelvis, that moves like a wave from the top of the abdomen to the bottom, according to WebMD. They may feel like intensely painful menstrual cramps, according to Babyexpert, or like the need to pass gas.
For some women, the beginning of contractions may feel like they have the flu or other intestinal problems, according to Sutter Health. Others may feel cramping in their legs and experience nausea, notes the Mayo Clinic.
Babyexpert explains that the pain and discomfort go away completely between contractions, which increase in intensity and frequency as labor progresses. During early labor, contractions typically last from 30 to 90 seconds, according to Mayo Clinic, and come in regular but shortening intervals, timed from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. By the end of early labor, they are usually about five minutes apart. The second, or active, stage of labor can last from a few minutes to eight hours or longer until the baby begins to be born. Contractions during this stage are usually the most intense.
During contractions, the abdomen becomes hard to the touch and softens again between them. Real contractions differ from Braxton Hicks, or false, contractions in this way and also in that they cannot be stopped by changing position or activity as Braxton Hicks contractions can. Unlike Braxton Hicks, true contractions increase in intensity, duration and frequency, according to What to Expect.