How Does Labor Feel When It Starts?


This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links. Please review my full Disclosure Policy

Anyone who’s about to become a mom will always wonder what life would be like when you have to parent a human being. But before all that, one has to wonder what it’s like to give birth and of course, “how does labor feel when it starts?”

If you’re dreading your due date because a lot of your mom friends have awful stories about childbirth, then I understand and you probably have all the right to be scared. That’s because most of those stories are true, particularly about how labor feels. It’s been almost five years since we welcomed our boy but the memory of the physical pain I felt the day I gave birth is still, somehow, fresh.

First-time moms should have an idea of what labor conrtactions really feel like.

When I got pregnant, people within my social circle had recently given birth so I had someone to ask all about pregnancy, breastfeeding, horrible nausea and what labor contractions really feel like. I got the same answer from most new moms I asked – contractions felt like menstrual cramps – only 10x worse.

The first time I heard that answer, I froze.

I experience menstrual cramps every month (or every other month — I’m an irregular bleeder) but even then, I’ve never really gotten used to the pain and it’s something I will probably never stop hating. I wasn’t prepared to learn that I’ll be experiencing 10x worse the pain.

To prepare you mentally for the big day, here are things you need to know about how labor feels like when it starts.

First Stage of Labor

The American Pregnancy Association states childbirth involves three stage: phases of labor, cervical dilation to 10 cm until delivery, and the delivery of the placenta. An expectant mom will go through different phases of labor and with each phase, you’ll feel different levels of pain. I will focus more on the first stage of labor since it is what most moms dread – labor contractions!

1. Early Labor Phase

-no need to panic and rush to the hospital

-cervix is dilated to 3cm.

-characterized by mild contractions

– depending on your pain threshold, you may feel nothing to a slight aching on your lower back and tightening in the pelvic area. I didn’t know that I was already in labor at that time. I really felt nothing.

2. Active Labor Phase

– time to go to the hospital

– contractions are longer and stronger and close together

– cervix is dilated between 4cm-7cm

– depending on your threshold, you can feel nothing to unbearable pain. I started feeling it at 7 cm.

3. Transition phase

This is said to be the most challenging of all labor phases (a.k.a all hell breaks loose phase) but it will be over real soon.

– cervix is dilated between 8cm to 10 cm.

– you will need all the support you can get. Unfortunately for me, there was none. We weren’t allowed to have someone with us in the labor room, which sucks really.

– if you feel like taking a dump, tell your healthcare provider.

What to Expect When Labor Contractions Start

  • Labor contractions really feel like menstrual cramps or tightening around the lower abdominal area. It starts out as a low-level pain that gradually progresses into intense and excruciating pain.
  • Your world will spin because you will not understand the pain that comes with contractions. I felt hot and irritable and out of breath.
  • Intense pain will be felt in the lower abdomen and in the back.
  • The pain can get more intense, it will radiate to your legs, particularly the upper thighs.
  • You might also feel Braxton Hicks contractions or false contractions in the middle of your pregnancy. They can begin as early as the second trimester. It’s characterized by an uncomfortable tightening in the abdomen.

Some Tips To Prepare Yourself For the Labor Pains

There’s no way to sugarcoat what labor contractions really feel like. But what you can do is prepare and tell yourself it’s going to be painful – extremely, unbearably painful. To mentally condition yourself, research all about childbirth, read horror stories from moms – I know that worked for me. If you have anxiety, read positive stories instead and read positive experiences from other people. Doing your research by reading books about pregnancy can also help you prepare for childbirth.

A support person can greatly help you during the stressful phases of labor. Prepare together and when it’s time, focus on that person for utter support. Practice your breathing and relaxation techniques. They can come in very handy.

I didn’t do much, I didn’t have a support person with me and I didn’t know how to practice breathing (lol) but I managed. I only had the company of Ransom Riggs’ book the whole time. What really helped was educating myself about what is expected to happen and what could possibly happen, whether good or bad.

You can do this! You’re designed to be awesome. You’ll be fine.

Note: This article is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. Contact your healthcare provider if you’re not sure if you’re in real labor.


  1. It’s weird but I never experienced labor pains! Gave birth to my 2 kids via CS and I remember the nurses and doctors in the hospital (when I gave birth to my 2nd child) worrying that my contractions were spiking. I wasn’t supposed to go on labor due to placenta previa. I kept telling them that I wasn’t feeling anything but they could see it on the monitor. Weird! They just went ahead with the CS earlier than scheduled.

  2. I’ve done both a natural and medicated birth (epidural). I found that the pain leading up to transition were bearable (even if just within bounds). They were definitely excruciating, but the trick for me was to do a low hum (kind of guttural) and make sure to breath. For me, no amount of breathing could keep me in control after transition. It’s a feeling you just can’t describe or quantify. I’m not saying this to scare or put anyone off, merely sharing my experience. My second was with an epidural just after I hit transition. It was like I could breath again, and I felt NOTHING. Actually, I was so numb I almost regretted it because I couldn’t move from the waist down which I found terrifying. But I had a much easier time finishing delivery the second time!

  3. Unfortunately, my labor contractions never started on their own. I was 10 days late, waiting waiting waiting. And finally had to go for induction, they gradually started stimulation and I still wouldn’t feel anything. Then they increased the dose so much that I almost climbed up the ceiling from the pain. I just couldn’t bear that pain without the epidural although I really hoped to have a natural birth…. Despite all that, I’m now a happy mom and remember all that with a smile 🙂 We all have our journey of labor 😀

  4. I was induced with my son, so I’m not sure if I really experienced the “beginning” of labor pains / contractions, because it seemed like they came on full-force instantly. I was 6cm within less than an hour, and after I got an epidural, I didn’t feel ANYTHING at all. I literally slept for a few hours. Then, my son’s head was so big that I had to have a c-section. Now, I’m pregnant and our daughter is due in November. It’s a repeat c-section, but I’m still worried that if I go into labor on my own, I won’t recognize the contactions when they happen!

Let me know your thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.