How To Time Your Contractions During Labor

'Man sitting with pregnant woman holding stop watch, smiling'
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Timing contractions are 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.

Why Timing Contractions Is Important

The reason it's important to know how to time your 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?)

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

How to Time Your Contractions

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. Alternatively, you can use a stopwatch app on your phone.
  2. When a contraction begins, note the time. This is the time the contraction begins.
  3. When a contraction ends note the time. This is the time the contraction ends.
  1. The difference in these numbers, the beginning, and the ending is how long the contractions are lasting.
  2. Note the time the next contraction begins.
  3. The distance from the first contraction to the second contraction is how far apart your contractions are.
  4. Time a few contractions to check for regularity. Then quit timing the contractions for a bit. Generally, contractions will stay in a pattern for a while.

    Miscellaneous Tips

    Here are some tips for timing your 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 and may result in you getting sent home because you went too soon.
    3. If you have questions, call your doctor or midwife.

    What You Need to Time Contractions

    Here's what you'll need to time your contractions:

    • A watch or a stopwatch app
    • Contraction timing app
    • Paper and something with which to write, or you can print out this handy contractions chart

    When It's Time to Go to the Hospital

    Unless your doctor or midwife has given you specific instructions, you should head to the hospital or your chosen place of birth when your contractions are every three to five minutes and last for 45-60 seconds for an hour or longer if this is your first baby. If it's your second or more, start making your way there when the contractions are every five to seven minutes for 45-60 seconds.