Things That Cause Contractions That Might Not Be Labor

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Things That Cause Contractions That Might Not Be Labor. Photo © Blend Images/Getty Images

Contractions are the one thing that most people focus on when it comes to deciding what is labor and what isn’t labor. But, simply having contractions is not the same thing as being in labor. You might find yourself wondering: What are the causes of contractions? Did you know that there are many things that can cause contractions?​

Contractions occur in pregnancy when you have a certain level of oxytocin flowing in your blood.

This can be very normal, like labor, when your body and your baby's brain release oxytocin to stimulate contractions for labor. Or it can happen if you are dehydrated, meaning a little bit of oxytocin your body would have ignored earlier is in greater concentration, and now you're having contractions. Here are some times when contractions happen and what you need to do about them:

Vaginal Exams 

At the end of pregnancy, you practitioner might want to do a vaginal exam to do a Group B Strep test or to assess your cervix. Sometimes having a vaginal exam tends to stir up some annoying, irregular contractions. This is particularly true if the membranes were also swept or stripped. These contractions are often uncomfortable to painful. They tend to shift around in length and timing. The good news is that comfort measures you’ve been practicing for labor will often help out.

Sex

Sex at the end of your pregnancy can cause contractions.

 These contractions can be quite intense and painful. Often they subside as quickly as they arrived. Though sometimes they peter out into irregular contractions for awhile before completely disappearing. This can take up to an hour and you may also have a feeling of fullness in your abdomen after an orgasm, which is also completely normal.

Speaking of which, orgasms alone can cause contractions, even if you don't have intercourse. This can happen if you're masturbating alone or with a partner as well. If you have been told to avoid sex because of a history or risk of preterm labor, you will also want to ask if that means you need to discontinue orgasms without intercourse as well. 

Exercise

The bigger the belly and the harder the exercise, the more likely the contractions are to be caused by the activity. Quit working out and see what your uterus does. If the contractions continue for more than an hour, call your doctor or midwife while you drink some water. You may also need to adjust or curtail your exercise if this happens frequently, particularly prior to thirty-seven weeks. This can also be linked to number four below.

Dehydration

This is a big deal. You should try to avoid dehydration because it can also be a cause of preterm labor. Stay well hydrated. If you think your contractions are coming because you didn’t drink enough, drink water, sit down and call your practitioner for directions, particularly if you are not yet thirty-seven weeks pregnant. Rehydration is the first line of defense for preterm labor, start while you're figuring out what to do.

Dehydration is much more common in the hotter or summer months, but it is possible all year long. Be cognizant of the fact that you can quickly become dehydrated.

Nipple Stimulation

Whether this comes from sexual activity, a breast pump or a baby – nipple stimulation can cause contractions. There are even some protocols to use nipple stimulation as a form of induction of labor. If nipple stimulation gives you contractions that last more than a few minutes, you will want to stop and check in with your practitioner.

What to Do If You Have Contractions

If you are having more than five contractions in an hour and you are not yet thirty-seven weeks, you will want to talk to your doctor or midwife immediately.

This may be preterm labor and you will need to be seen, perhaps even in the emergency room. If you are having contractions at that rate and you are past thrty-seven weeks of gestation, you may be in labor.

Remember, real labor has contractions that get strong, longer and closer together. If your contractions are not progressing in this manner, you are probably not in labor. If your contractions change patterns and do become strong, longer and closer together, reassess, maybe you are in labor! If you aren’t sure, call your doctor or midwife. They will be happy to help you decide.

Sources:

Kafaei Atrian M, Sadat Z, Rasolzadeh Bidgoly M, Abbaszadeh F, Asghari Jafarabadi M. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2014 Dec 26;17(1):e16465. doi: 10.5812/ircmj.16465. eCollection 2015. The association of sexual intercourse during pregnancy with labor onset.

Moore TR, Iams JD, Creasy RK, Burau KD, Davidson AL. Obstet Gynecol. 1994 Apr;83(4):517-23. Diurnal and gestational patterns of uterine activity in normal human pregnancy. The Uterine Activity in Pregnancy Working Group.

Sakala C, Romano AM, Buckley SJ. Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing, an Essential Framework for Maternal-Newborn Nursing. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2016 Jan 27. pii: S0884-2175(15)00052-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jogn.2015.12.006.

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