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Postpartum - After Delivery

How to Time Contractions

As the end of the pregnancy approaches, it is important for any pregnant woman to be aware of the signs of labor and how to time contractions. Learning how to time contractions can make the difference of knowing what is false labor and what is true labor.

In the final weeks of pregnancy, usually around 36 to 42 weeks, delivery can come at any time depending on both the mother and the baby. Unless the exact date of conception is known, it is often difficult for doctors and health care professionals to pinpoint the due date exactly. This is why it is important to be anticipating having contractions as soon as 36 weeks along in the pregnancy. Learning  how to time contractions is the best way to determine if true labor is occurring, or if the contractions are simply Braxton Hicks contractions, otherwise known as false labor. 

Signs of Labor:

Paying attention to to the other signs of labor, in addition to learning how to time contractions, is the best way to determine if true labor is really taking place. Usually doctors or midwives will want to begin preparing for the birth of the baby once the contractions are five to six minutes apart. That is the biggest reason it is so important to learn how to time contractions. If you know how far apart the contractions are, you will know if it is time to head to the hospital, birth center or to have the midwife come to you if you plan to have a home birth.  Some of these other early signs of labor can include feelings of lightening, passing of the mucus plug, water breaking, effacement and dilation of the cervix. 

How to Time Contractions:

Learning how to time contractions involves knowing what contractions feel like and having some kind of watch or time-telling device available. There are also easy-to-use smart phone applications that are specifically designed to time labor contractions. However, if this is too much to handle while having labor contractions, it is best to allow your partner or a family member help you time the contractions. When contractions are occurring, the abdomen typically becomes hard. However, between contractions the uterus will relax and the abdomen becomes soft. When you start to feel the pain and feel the abdomen, this is when the contraction is happening. At the end of the contraction mark the time and compare it to the length of time from when the next contraction begins. Another part of contractions to remember is the length of the contraction. As labor progresses, the contractions will happen more frequently and will last longer. Remember to time how long they are lasting as well as the time in between the contractions. This will help you figure out if they are simply Braxton Hicks contractions or if they are indicative of real labor. 

If the contractions do not stop at all even if you change your position or relax, these are real labor contractions and it is important to learn how to time them to know about when to expect impending delivery. Braxton Hicks contractions on the other hand will tighten in the abdomen as well, but this feeling will come and go. They will also not get closer together, do not increase with walking, do not also increase in how long they last or in strength. However, timing your labor contractions, even if they are Braxton Hicks, will help you determine the difference. 

Real Labor Contractions:

When learning how to time labor contractions to tell if the contractions are real labor, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Contractions will come at regular intervals, and should last about 30-70 seconds. They will last longer and the contractions will get stronger and longer the closer you are to labor.
  • Contractions will also continue even if you try and switch positions to relax or get more comfortable.
  • Contractions begin to get stronger.
  • Real contractions also usually start out in the lower back and then move forward to the front of the abdomen. 

Time for Delivery:

Make sure when you are keeping track of these labor contractions that you are writing them down or having someone write them down for you. Sometimes even real labor contractions can last hours before the baby is even ready to be born. It is important to write down the time the contraction starts as well as the duration of the contraction. Remember, for a first-time mom, the contractions during labor usually last around eight to fourteen hours, but can last even longer. However, the contractions during labor and entire length of labor usually shortens with each subsequent birth after the first baby. When you are keeping track of your contractions, remember that you should inform your midwife or doctor that you are ready for delivery once the contractions get about five or so minutes apart and last for 45 to 60 seconds. This is usually the best time to head to the hospital or to call in the midwife.


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