When and How to Time Contractions during Labour?

Timing Contractions During Labour – Importance and Procedure

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
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When you are reaching close to the end of your pregnancy, every prick in your stomach starts to feel like a contraction. You may wonder each time, “Am I having a contraction or is that just gas”? Let’s see how you can correctly identify contractions.

What Do Contractions Feel Like?

Contractions are a major sign of going into labour. There are three types of contractions, out of which you need to time only the real contractions. The three types are:

1. False

False contractions can happen up till the time of labour. They occur just to make the cervix ready and will not cause it to dilate. They usually stop if you change position.

2. Practice

These are also called Braxton-Hicks contractions and are experienced by some women but not all. They can occur mid-pregnancy and usually prepare you for labour.

3. Real

If your contractions continue and become more intense as the minutes pass, then they are definitely real. These contractions won’t stop even if you change your activity or position. They can cause some bloody mucus to appear or pain in your lower back, which can give you cramps, an upset stomach, or diarrhoea.

Real contractions will first start in your lower back and slowly move to your abdomen. It will start with a feeling of pain that you get during constipation or menstrual cramps. The pain will rise and then reduce, making your abdomen stuff. Contractions feel different to every woman but usually last for 60-90 seconds and increase in frequency as labour approaches. Closer to your delivery date, your contractions can form a pattern, telling you when you are going into labour.

Why Should You Keep a Track on Your Contractions?

Contractions are the main clue that tell you that you are ready to give birth. Even if your water has broken, you will be generally instructed to wait till your contractions form a regular, close pattern before heading to the birthing room in the hospital. Keep a track on your contractions because it will tell you which stage of labour you are at.

1. Early Labour

This is when your cervix has dilated to 3cm in diameter, and your contractions are mild (similar to menstrual cramps). Each one will last 30-45 seconds and will happen from 5-30 minutes apart.

2. Active Labour

You will have stronger contractions which will last between 45-60 seconds, 3-5 minutes apart and your cervix will dilate to 7cm. When you feel these contractions, then you have to call your doctor and leave for the hospital.

3. Transition Phase

This is the last stage of labour, and your cervix will have dilated to 10cm. Your contractions will be long and intense, each between 60-90 seconds long and 30 seconds to 2 minutes apart.

When Should You Ideally Start Timing Your Contractions?

How to know when to time contractions? Ideally, you should wait till you have two or three contractions at regular intervals. Then you’ll know that it’s the real thing and you can start timing them. They will feel like a combination of a period and constipation, starting in your lower back and going around to your abdomen.

What Are the Methods to Keep a Track on Labour Contractions?

There are different methods of timing contractions. They are as follows:

1. Using a Timer

When you feel your stomach tightening, start the timer and stop it when the feeling subsides. Start the timer again when your next contraction starts, to measure the time between each contraction.

Using a Timer

2. Measure the Average

Calculating the time between each contraction will tell you if they are regular or the time between them is fluctuating. If you start feeling regular contractions, then you don’t need to rush to the hospital immediately. You can call your doctor, inform him and wait until your contractions become stronger to leave for the hospital. Your doctor will coach you and tell you what you should do from there.

3. Using Technology

These days, there are millions of apps available. Download a contraction timer app or install it on your computer. You can start or stop it when you feel your contractions. This works the same as a stopwatch.

How to Time Contractions in Labour

To measure uterine contractions or to count Braxton Hicks contractions, if you are not using an app, just grab a timer and a notepad and pen when you start feeling the contractions with some degree of regularity.

  • Note the time when a contraction begins.
  • Write down the time when it ends.
  • Calculate how long the contraction lasts by subtracting the beginning time from the end time.
  • Note the time the next contraction begins. Also, calculate the time between the end of one contraction and the beginning of the next one to see how far apart they are.
  • Continue to time each contraction if they occur regularly. If they don’t, take a break until they do again.

How Long Do Labour Contractions Last?

During labour, contractions will be about a minute each. But it is important to note not only the time but also the intensity of each contraction. Extreme strong contractions signal that the baby is coming.

At What Point Should You Head to the Hospital?

Usually, the best advice is to wait till your contractions are 5 minutes apart and occur that way regularly for an hour before you head to the hospital. Call your doctor as soon as your regular contractions begin; he can coach you from there as he would know best your risk factors and pregnancy history.

As your pregnancy progresses, you may wait for the contractions to start, as it signals it is time for the delivery and, finally, to see the little one you’ve been nurturing in your womb all these months. The most important thing when you feel contractions is to stay calm, take deep breaths, and start counting. Have a happy delivery!

Also Read: Real Labour Vs False Labour

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