What is a Contraction? - Preparing For Birth Manual


Contractions are strong muscular tightenings of the womb (uterus), which are needed to open the cervix (or neck of the womb) and to help move the baby down and essentially, push them out.

The word “contraction” implies things getting smaller, which is true of the uterus itself. As birthing progresses it gets smaller and smaller with every contraction, which in turn helps to push the baby down and out. The uterus is a muscle - and it is a very special muscle, in that it is the only one in the body that can go from being the size of a pear pre-pregnancy to the size of a big balloon, and then back again post birth.

The uterus contracting also cause the cervix to dilate: it opens, softens, draws back into the uterus and eventually disappears completely, making space for the baby. During contractions it can be useful to focus on feelings of “expansion”; blooming, opening like a flower, making a soft and sensual space. Include any language preferences in your Birth Wish List to suggest this.

Contractions become more intense and long lasting and get closer together as birthing progresses. Often they start occurring irregularly and lasting 30 seconds or so. Once labour has progressed they become more regular and at this point you may experience 3-4 contractions in a 10-minute period, each lasting about 45-60 seconds. Usually contractions last no longer than a minute.

It is the effort of the uterus contracting which creates the cramping sensations - rather like the cramps experienced during periods, when the uterus contracts to shed the lining of the womb. Try to welcome these sensations, and have a positive attitude to this awesome muscle’s sheer power. These cramps are your body working very hard to literally birth your baby. The best thing you can do is keep your mind quiet and your emotions calm, which will facitllaite this process along more smoothly.

Once we know and understand the mechanics of birth, we can more easily trust our body and go with it, relaxing into the process of it all. Knowledge is key.

And remember, we can turn any fears into energy and power. We just need to face them.

Each contraction follows a pattern and can be divided into 3 stages:

▪ Build up phase

▪ Peak phase

▪ Relaxation to rest phase

Imagine a mountain: This peak phase builds up through the birthing, becoming longer and stronger as the contractions get closer together. To help labour progress, and to increase and strengthen the contractions, we need to encourage the release of the hormone oxytocin.

Sometime referred to as ‘the love hormone’, oxytocin is present when we feel love for others, or feel loved by others. It can be released when we are sat with all our best friends around a dinner table sharing a wonderful moment, and soars through the body at the moment of orgasm - increasing our ‘feeling’ sense and literally turning the thinking brain (frontal cortex) off. So the hormone that helped create a baby, is now the one that helps us birth them!

8 Conditions that help encourage oxytocin, and thus contractions, include:

• Being in a dark or dimly lit space - cozy

• Warmth

• Feelings of safety

• Water

• Kissing and cuddling

• Nipple / clitoral stimulation

• Birth Breathing: Slow, deep inhales into the belly, followed by long, slow exhales using a slight compression in the back of the throat. This activates the Vegas Nerve Group, which tells your nervous system to relax and helps to keep you calm, which in turn keeps oxytocin increasing in the body

• Concentrating on the breath will help to keep you calm. Listening to the breath, thinking about where it goes, will help keep other thoughts at bay as the more primal brain takes over

• Welcoming each contraction with a positive thought or affirmation, i.e. ‘YES YES YES’, ‘I’M OPENING’, ‘I”M BIRTHING’, ‘MY BABY IS COMING’ are all useful

Conditions that discourage oxytocin, and so decrease contractions and slow things down:

• Bright lights

• Change in environment

• Direct questions that you need to ask or answer yourself – this pulls you out of your zone by activating the frontal cortex of the brain

• Fear - encourages adrenalin and inhibits oxytocin

• Feeling observed or watched

• Not feeling safe


1. Prepare for the contraction - BEGIN TO FOCUS

2. Begin your Birth Breathing - slow and deep into the belly and back out, all the way through the contraction - STAY FOCUSED, STAY CALM

3. Circle the hips or bounce on a ball, as movement helps - FIND A RHYTHM WITH MOVEMENT AND BREATHE

4. Feel the sensations build in power and peak. Know that your body is working effectively, making your uterus smaller and helping push your baby down - GO WITH IT

5. Feel the sensations fade away - KEEP BREATHING, KEEP FOCUSED

6. Once the contraction is over, relax and go all floppy and enjoy the rest time after the contraction is finished - SIGH, THINK THE WORD ‘RELAX’, SOFTEN YOUR JAW, DOZE OFF

TUNE IN - the day you give birth 300,000 women around the world will be giving birth too. IMAGINE ALL OF YOU BECOMING MOTHERS TOGETHER - a powerful energy