How to time contractions

How To Time Contractions: A Step-By-Step Guide

Pregnant women often ask how they can time their contractions. It can be tricky to determine when you are actually in labor since Braxton Hicks contractions can feel very similar to the real thing. In this step-by-step guide, we will teach you how to time contractions to assess better whether or not you are in labor.

What are contractions?

Contractions are the periodic tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscles, and labor contractions signify the start of childbirth. Early labor contractions may occur several weeks or even months before active labor begins. These contractions are usually irregular and do not get closer together. To track them, you may use a contraction monitor or keep a record of the time each one starts and ends. 

As labor progresses, contractions become more frequent, closer together, and longer lasting. During active labor, contractions usually peak at 60 to 90 seconds and occur three to five minutes apart. They may be so strong that you cannot talk or walk during them. As labor nears its end, contractions slow down again and may even stop for a short period of time before the baby’s delivery. Want to read more? Check out our post about what does a contraction feel like?

How To Time Contractions Using an App

Timing contractions is a crucial part of labor and delivery. By knowing how long each contraction lasts and how far apart they are, you and your doctor can better gauge when it’s time to head to the hospital.

There are a few different ways to time contractions. You can use a stopwatch app, timer, or even an app on your phone. Here’s how to time contractions using an app:

1. Download a contraction timer app on your phone.

2. Start the timer when a contraction begins.

3. Stop the timer when the next contraction begins.

4. Follow the institutions in the app, and based on the history of your contractions, seek professional medical advice on when to go to the hospital.

Using an app to time contractions is a quick and easy way to keep track of your labor progress. Plus, it can be beneficial for your doctor or healthcare provider team when you’re trying to describe what’s happening. So give it a try next time you’re in labor!

You can download our Contraction Timer & Counter for free and let it be your pregnancy and birth companion. Download for iOS or Android.

contraction timer app

The app uses AI when tracking contractions. You hit start when you feel the first contraction and stop when the contraction ends. It offers valuable information about the pattern and frequency that you can share with your doctor. Pregnant women find it helpful and can also enjoy relaxation music or hypnobirthing tracks when they start timing contractions.

Why are Timing Contractions Important?

Timing contractions is essential for two reasons. First, it can help you determine when labor has begun. Second, it can help you and your caregiver understand how contractions are progressing. 

Labor contractions typically start at the top of the uterus and radiate down and out into the lower abdomen and back. The sensation of a contraction can vary from person to person but is often described as “menstrual-like cramps” that become progressively stronger. 

Contractions usually start out infrequent and far apart, but as labor progresses, they become stronger and closer together. It is helpful to time contractions so that you have a sense of how they are progressing. 

When you time contractions, you will want to note when the contraction starts and when it ends. You may also want to report any other sensations you feel during the contraction, such as pressure in your back or pelvis. 

Additionally, it can be helpful to track how long each contraction lasts and how much time passes between contractions.

In general, if contractions are less than five minutes apart, last for more than 60 seconds, and are accompanied by a change in your vaginal discharge (e.g., water breaking), it is time to go to the hospital or birth center. 

The Difference Between False Labor Contractions and True Labor Contractions

There is often a lot of confusion for expectant mothers about the difference between false contractions and true labor contractions. It is important to understand the difference because false contractions will not result in the baby’s birth, whereas actual labor contractions will. With false labor contractions, the contractions will usually occur at irregular intervals and will not get closer together as time goes on.

They also may stop if you change position or walk around. With actual contractions, the contractions will come at regular intervals, and they will get closer together as time goes on. They also will not stop if you change position or walk around. True contractions typically start around the same time as your due date, whereas false contractions can start weeks or even months before your due date. When in doubt, it is always best to consult with your healthcare provider to be sure.

How long does contracting last?

When you are in labor, time your contractions from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next, the length of time between your contractions is called the duration. The duration of each contraction is usually 30 to 60 seconds but may be as short as 10 seconds or as long as 2 minutes. The regular pattern can tell you precisely in which stage of labor you are. You will want to track both how long each contraction lasts and how often they occur. 

Contractions gradually open your cervix and help push your baby into the birth canal. As your cervix begins to open (dilate) more, the distance between contractions will begin to shorten. Eventually, you will have a contraction every 3 to 5 minutes that last 60 to 90 seconds. When you are having contractions that are this close together and last this long, it is time to go to the hospital or birth center because you are in labor!

Step By Step Guide on How To Track Contractions Manually

time contraction and change position during early labor
  1. First, it’s essential to understand what a contraction feels like. Many women describe contractions as feeling like intense menstrual cramps that come and go in waves. Others say they feel pressure in their back or pelvis that builds and releases.
  2. To time a contraction, start by timing how long it lasts from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. This is called the duration.
  3. Next, time how long it takes for the contraction to the peak. This is called intensity.
  4. Finally, time how often contractions are coming. This is called frequency.

Once you have all three numbers, you can start to get an idea of how strong your contractions are and how close together they are coming.

If you’re not sure if you’re having contractions or not, there are a few other signs to look for:

  • If your contractions are regular (coming at consistent intervals), last for 30-60 seconds, and become progressively stronger and closer together, then you’re likely in labor and should head to the hospital or birth center.
  • If your contractions are irregular (coming at random intervals), last for less than 30 seconds, and are not getting stronger or closer together, then you’re probably not in labor and can continue to wait at home.

Remember, every pregnancy is different, so there is no one correct answer for when to head to the hospital or birthing center. If you’re ever unsure, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and give your care provider a call.

Finally, don’t forget to breathe! Labor can be challenging but try to relax and take things one contraction at a time.

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