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When you have a contraction, your womb (uterus) gets tight and then relaxes. You may have had contractions throughout your pregnancy, particularly towards the end. During pregnancy, these painless tightenings are called Braxton Hicks contractions.
When you are having regular, painful contractions that feel stronger and last more than 30 seconds, labour may have started. Your contractions will become longer, stronger and more frequent.
During a contraction, the muscles in your womb contract and the pain increases. If you put your hand on your abdomen, you can feel it getting harder. When the muscles relax, the pain fades and your hand will feel the hardness ease. The contractions are pushing your baby down and opening your cervix (entrance to the womb) ready for your baby to go through.
Your midwife will probably advise you to stay at home until your contractions are frequent. When your contractions last 30-60 seconds and every three minutes (every five minutes if it is your second baby or more), call Maternity Triage for advice.