How To Time Your Contractions During Labor

'Man sitting with pregnant woman holding stop watch, smiling'
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Timing contractions is very easy to do and can tell you a lot about your labor. You should learn how to time contractions in your childbirth class, or even from your doctor or midwife. (This is particularly important if you have a history or risk factors for preterm labor.)

The reason that it is important to know how to time contractions is that it will help you figure out what to do when you're in labor.

How far apart or close together your contractions are may help you make the decision on when to go to your place of birth, whether or not to call your doctor or midwife, or even how to structure your day. (Should you go to work or stay home? Stay up or go to sleep?)​

"Timing contractions actually gave my husband something to do when he felt anxious," recalls one mother. "It was calming and predictable for him and kept him focused on that. I figured if he were busy, I could work and he could focus on me when I needed him to focus on me."

Many families will default to using an app to help them time their contractions, but sometimes contraction timing apps aren't always cooperating, so it's always good to know how to do it with just your watch.

Learning how to time contractions is simple. Here are the basics:

  1. When you think you're having regular contractions get a watch with a second hand or find someone to help you. Digital watches work well too.
  1. When a contraction begins, note the time. This is the time the contraction begins.
  2. When a contraction ends note the time. This is the time the contraction ends.
  3. The difference in these numbers, the beginning and ending, is how long the contractions are lasting.
  4. Note the time the next contraction begins.
  1. The distance from the first contraction to the second contraction is how far apart your contractions are.
  2. Time a few contractions to check for regularity. Then quit timing the contractions for awhile. Generally, contractions will stay in a pattern for awhile.

Tips on How to Time Contractions:

  1. Don't time every contraction. Only time them when they start and when you believe that they've changed in length or space.
  2. Ignore every contraction you can. Getting overly excited can get you to your place of birth faster, but won't make the baby come any sooner.
  3. If you have questions call your doctor or midwife.

What You Need to Time Contractions:

  • A watch
  • Contraction timing app
  • Consider: paper and something with which to write

The Biggest Surprises About Timing Contractions?

There are plenty of things that may surprise you but here are some of the things that parents said:

"I was shocked at how regularly the contractions came. You really could set a watch by them, as the saying goes."

"No one wanted my lengthy list of contractions that I had carefully and lovingly charted. The nurses smiled at me and told me to sit it on the counter."

"They were really rhythmic. They came and went and came and went, just like the books said."

So, as you can see, timing contractions is a great skill for you to consider adding to your list of skills. While it may not be resume worthy as a skill, there may be a day or two in your life where it comes in particularly handy. 

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