Labor contractions are the periodic tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscle, the largest muscle in a woman's body. Something triggers the pituitary gland to release a hormone called oxytocin that stimulates the uterine tightening. It is difficult to predict when true labor contractions will begin.
Contractions are often described as a cramping or tightening sensation that starts in the back and moves around to the front in a wave-like manner. Others say the contraction feels like pressure in the back. During a contraction, the abdomen becomes hard to the touch. In the childbirth process, the work of labor is done through a series of contractions. These contractions cause the upper part of the uterus (fundus) to tighten and thicken while the cervix and lower portion of the uterus stretch and relax, helping the baby pass from inside the uterus and into the birth canal for delivery.