How to Time Contractions?

How to Time Contractions

At some point toward the end of the third trimester, you will start to feel contractions, which are usually the main sign that labor has begun. These early contractions perform an important role: they help open the cervix and push your baby lower into the pelvis. Knowing how to time your contractions can help you figure out just how far along you are in labor, and when you need to call your healthcare provider or make your way to the hospital.

As your labor begins, your cervix starts to dilate, and the muscles around your uterus contract. This means your belly tightens during contractions, and then relaxes and becomes softer in between. Labor contractions should occur at regular intervals and increase in intensity and frequency; if you have contractions that are irregular and don't get stronger, you may be experiencing what's known as Braxton Hicks contractions or false contractions, which are not yet the real thing.

You may also want to keep an eye out for any of the other signs of labor that come along with the contractions so you can be sure what you’re experiencing is true labor.

What Are Contractions?

A contraction is a cramping or tightening feeling that begins in your back and moves around to the front of your body, though it can sometimes feel like pressure in your back. The series of contractions you experience during labor helps the baby pass from your uterus into the birth canal. While the upper part of your uterus tightens, the lower part relaxes and stretches to guide the baby’s movement.

How to Time Contractions During Labor

Tracking your contractions can help you figure out how far along you are in labor, so it’s a good idea to jot down when the contractions take place. You can use our chart to help you.

Example of Timing Contractions

Make a note of the time when the first contraction starts, and how long it lasts, and then mark when the next one begins. Keep noting these times for at least an hour to see if there is any pattern, or if the contractions are getting closer together. At first, it can be hard to recognize labor contractions if the pain is slight, but if you are genuinely going into labor, these should get more obvious over time. Labor contractions are regular and show a pattern that gets progressively stronger and closer together, each lasting around 30 to 70 seconds.

You may want to have your partner time your contractions. That way, you'll have one less thing to worry about, while your partner may appreciate having something useful to do as you wait for the right time to go to the hospital.

When to Go to the Hospital

The frequency and intensity of your contractions are good indicators of how far along you are in your labor, and will help determine when you should go to the hospital; your water breaking is another important consideration. At one of your third trimester checkups, talk to your healthcare provider about when you should head into the hospital, and follow any instructions given. You may even have the option to be in phone contact with your provider to discuss any signs of labor you may have.

When you get to the hospital, your medical team will take care of you, so there’s no need to worry about how to time your contractions correctly.

Your team will still time the contractions and measure how dilated your cervix is. Once your contractions come close together and last around 60 to 90 seconds, you may feel the urge to push. Tell the hospital staff if you feel ready to push, so your doctor or midwife can check that you're fully dilated. If you're not fully dilated, you may need to hold back, because pushing too soon can tire you out and may even cause your cervix to swell. When the time is right, your doctor will tell you.

Once contractions begin, you can also try breathing and relaxation techniques to help you focus and recharge. When you get to the hospital, your healthcare team will help you through each step of labor. If you have a birth plan, make sure your provider has a copy when you arrive at the hospital. Make sure to discuss pain relief options with your doctor, such as whether you want an epidural or not.

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