The 6 different types of contractions

types of contractions

The uterus has 6 types of contractions during pregnancy, labour and birth. Isn’t that incredible!

Pregnancy and birth tips from Sydney doula, Danae Cappelletto.

1. Braxton Hicks Contractions

This is the body’s way of preparing for labour. These contractions can be felt from as early as 26 / 28 weeks (second time mums usually feel them early than during first pregnancy). They can sometimes soften the cervix towards the end of your pregnancy but generally do not lead to real labour. It’s basically like a workout before the big day.

2. Early Labour Contractions

Your cervix will efface (ripen, thin and shorten) and dilate to 3 to 4cm. These contractions are milder to packing a good bite. This can be a testing period for some women as it can stop and start over a few nights before active labour finally kicks in. They can be sporadic, then settle into a rhythm, usually lasting 30 seconds to 50-55 seconds and can sometimes be the longest part of a labour for first time mums.

3. Active Labour Contractions

Your cervix will dilate from 4-8cm. The contractions will feel longer and stronger and be 60 seconds to 120 seconds in duration. These contractions should be consistently every 2 to 3 minutes (3 contractions in 10 minutes), to be good established active labour.  You will need to use your labour tools to work with these contractions and settle into the intensity / work with the pain.

4. Transition Contractions

Your cervix will dilate from 8-10cm. The function of the uterus is transitioning / changing, from dextrorotation to ejection. These are long, strong and intense contractions that may actually overlap. Transition labour is meant to be the shortest faze of your labour, lasting from a few minutes to 40 mins. The maximum I have seen is 1 hour. This is the most explosive time in the labour, the final gate.

5. Pushing Contractions

Your cervix is fully dilated. These contractions are strong and forceful. They may come with the intense urge to push or bear down, accompanied by lots of pressure in the bottom. In some women you can really see the whole belly pull in and down. For some women (more so when you have had previous virginal births) there is a strong fetal ejection reflex. This continues until the baby is born.

6. Post-Birth Contractions

Your baby has been born. These contractions work to expel the placenta and any blood clots, they continue even after the placenta is born to return the uterus to pre-pregnancy size, a process called Involution.

Note: Although I have referenced these contractions in correlation to dilation, the  contraction patterns most importantly tell you about your baby’s journey through the pelvis and what position it is in. There is no point obsessing over how dilated you are. Rather, focus on how you can move your body to optimise the orientation of your pelvis in relation to your uterus and movement that modifies the space inside the pelvis so that your baby can effectively complete cardinal movements. That is where progress occurs.


Danae is a Sydney birth doula and pregnancy support specialist. She works with families to provide guidance, information, emotional and physical support during pregnancy and birth.

Danae is Sydney’s first (and only) Optimal Maternal Positioning (OMP) Birth Educator & pregnancy (prenatal) yoga teacher.

If you have any questions about birth and pregancy support and her doula services, don’t hesitate to contact Danae directly.