How to time your contractions

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Contractions aren’t the nicest sensation in the world, but each cramp is an indication that you’ll soon get to meet your baby. Timing your contractions and keeping track of how often they happen can give you a better idea of what stage of labour you’re at and let you know when it’s time to head to the hospital. The closer your contractions are together, the closer you are to giving birth....hooray!

What are contractions?

Contractions are when the muscles around your uterus tighten up then relax to help your baby move down the birth canal.

They can often feel like a mix between really bad period pains and constipation. The pain may begin in your lower back and move towards your stomach or stay in your back area – it’s different with each woman. Contractions can last anywhere between 40 to 50 seconds and you may experience them every 10 minutes during early labour. As you get further along, they’ll become stronger, more frequent and last longer.

Benefits of timing contractions

It’s important to time your contractions as it can help you determine whether your labour contractions are true or false (Braxton Hicks).

If your contractions are false they should eventually be able to go away with a little movement; they’ll be irregular and won’t increase in frequency over time. However, if your contractions are true, we’re afraid they won’t go away with movement; they’ll feel stronger and increase in frequency over time. However, it’s important to remember that there isn’t a set pattern so don’t worry if they’re not regular.

How to time contractions

Start timing your contractions as soon as you’ve had two or three and they seem quite regular. ‘If you’ve had one or two, wait for the third – by then you’ll know if it’s real!,’ says Cheryl MacDonald, founder of Birth Rocks. ‘You don’t have to time them all the way through the labour process as the main purpose of timing them is to determine if you’re actually in labour so once you know the answer – then you can stop.’

Here's how to time your contractions:

  • Write down the time you experience your first contraction

  • Write down how long the contraction lasts

  • As soon as the next contraction begins do the same and work out the time between your first contraction and the second (this will give you the ‘frequency' of your contractions)

  • Keep doing this for an hour to see if you can spot whether your contractions are getting closer together. If they are, it could be time to go to the hospital!

At what point should you go to the hospital?

When your contractions come every five or six minutes, it's a good indication that you need to go to the hospital, however, it's a good idea to call your healthcare provider once you notice the first signs of labour, such as your water breaking.

You should have discussed with your healthcare provider during the last few weeks of your pregnancy a plan of action so that you know what to do when labour begins. Make sure you have your contraction information to hand when you call them so they can best advise you whether you should make your way to the hospital or if you'll be ok at home a little longer.

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