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How To Time Contractions

Dianna Graveman |10, January 2012


Everybody experiences labor a little differently, and unless your water breaks, you may not be sure you are actually in labor. Your doctor or midwife can guide you with information about how to know when you are truly experiencing labor pains. If in doubt, always consult your medical professional. Ask in advance how soon he or she would like you to call and report the timing of contractions. Some may want to know as soon as you think you are in labor, and some will ask you to wait until contractions are a certain length apart or of a certain duration.

Once you believe you really are in labor, you will want to time the contractions so that you don't wind up going to the hospital too soon or making multiple trips back and forth to the hospital for false labor.

Make sure you have a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand available as you approach the final weeks of your pregnancy.

When you feel a contraction beginning, look at your watch and note the time. After that contraction has stopped, wait until the next one begins and again note the time. The time between contractions is considered the time that passes from the beginning of one contraction until the beginning of the next. So if your first contraction begins at exactly 1:05, and your next contraction begins at 1:10, your contractions are five minutes apart, regardless of how long they last.

Your doctor or midwife, when you call, will also want to know how long the contractions last, on average. One way you can time contractions so that you have both the difference between the contractions and the average length of contractions, is to simply jot down the time at the beginning of the contraction, then jot down the time when it's finished, then jot down the time when the next contraction begins, then jot down when it stops, and so on. From here, you will be able to easily determine the time between contractions (beginning of one to beginning of another) and the length of each contraction (the time from beginning to end of each. Remember that your timing might not be exact, and the pattern will probably not be exact, either. Your body is not paying attention to the clock, after all.

If possible, it might be helpful to have a spouse or loved one jot the times down for you and do the calculations as you let him or her know when each contraction is beginning or ending.
It is not necessary to time every contraction throughout the beginning of labor. Time a series of five or so to get a feel for how frequent and long they are. When you feel something new happen--the contractions become stronger or seem to last longer--then time a series of them again to see if anything has changed.

Many medical professionals suggest if you go to the hospital or call your midwife when your contractions have been five minutes apart for about an hour, but always check with your own provider in advance and consult him or her immediately if you are concerned that the contractions have increased in intensity or duration too quickly or if you are concerned about the progression of your labor. A first-time mother will typically experience labor for about eight to fourteen hours, but labor can be shorter or longer for each individual. Subsequent births are usually shorter than the first. Try to relax and avoid rushing to the hospital, if your doctor or midwife tells you to wait. You will probably be more comfortable at home while you are in the early stages of labor.

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