How to Time Contractions

When it's almost time to give birth, your body knows. At some point between 38 and 42 weeks gestation, your body begins to send out the hormones that lead to uterine contractions. Sometimes it takes a great deal of time for this to happen, and you might experience contractions now and then for a few weeks; other times it happens within a matter of hours! Either way, learning how to time contractions is vitally important to help your doctor to estimate your condition and ensure you can get to hospital timely.

When to Start Timing

Start timing contractions once you realize they are coming on a regular basis. Though the pain is different for every woman, in most cases the pain begins slowly, ramps up quickly, and lasts for about a minute altogether. During early labor, these contractions might come every 15 minutes or so, and the intervals will get closer together as labor progresses. That's why you need to time the contractions to figure out the frequency.

Timing Approaches

Before learning how to time contraction, there are several timing approaches you can use, and the most common one is to simply use a pen and piece of paper, as well as a typical watch or clock. Simply time the duration of the pain, then note the time it happened. Repeat as necessary until you know they are very regular.

There are more technical ways to approach it, including apps that allow you to simply tap your smartphone at the start of a contraction. This can make things easier for you, as you aren't really thinking about timing – you are simply reacting to the pain you feel.

Here are a few options to try: Click for apps for android users and IOS users.

How to Time Contractions

If you do choose to count the contractions the old fashioned way, make sure you record everything – don't forget to write down even one contraction, as that can throw your pattern off and make you think that you aren't as far along in labor as you really are. Below are some essential points you can follow.

1. Count the Seconds

When you are heading to labor, you will gradually feel some regular contractions which are different from those past ones you experienced in early pregnancy. Then you can start to time the contractions. Yet, remember to use a timing tool that can count to seconds. When it comes to contractions, seconds really do count. The contractions will become longer as you get closer to real labor, so counting if one contraction is five seconds longer than the other really can make a difference after a few hours.

2. Record the Timing

Keep track of when the contraction begins and when it ends. A true contraction will last for about a minute, and gradually increase the duration while getting closer to labor. The records of the contractions you have written down will be a good reference for observing the duration of your contractions.

3. Figure Out the Frequency

In addition, learning to time contractions will help you figure out how far apart the contractions are. You can just subtract the start time of the previous contraction from the start time of this one, and you will get a number that denotes how many minutes it has been. If you are getting contractions every five minutes or less, it's probably time to head to the hospital!

Three Standards to Bear in Mind

With knowing how to time contractions, there are three standards you need to bear in mind, especially in later weeks before due date.

1. Duration

When trying to determine if you are truly in labor, the doctor will ask about the duration of the contraction. Early contractions typically last about 30 seconds and increase over time for 60-90 seconds. Remember that Braxton Hicks contractions never really get any longer, but that real labor contractions definitely increase in duration over time.

2. Frequency

It is also important to time how the contractions occur. The frequency is measured from the start of one contraction to the start of the next. Sometimes contractions will come and go; this is normal when your body is preparing for labor but not there yet. When the contractions begin to come in a regular frequency, such as every 15 or 10 minutes, it's time to start really paying attention.

3. Intensity

Early labor contractions will feel like menstrual cramps. You might even be able to sleep through them and carry on a conversation. As labor progresses, the intensity of contractions can increase, to a point where you can't speak to anyone during it, you can't move much, and you are gripped by the pain. Truly intense contractions happen near the end, and there is no doubt you are in labor!

Examples and When to Go to Hospital

Write down the contractions when they begin to feel very regular. In order to do this accurately, don't bother to count the minutes; just write down the time when a contraction begins and when it ends. For example:






Contraction Begins





Contraction Ends






45 sec.

45 sec.

60 sec.

55 sec.

When you are at five minutes apart, it's time to call the doctor. The doctor can usually tell by listening to your words about your contractions, and that's when the records are used. You will be asked to come to the hospital at that point. Congratulations: It's almost time to welcome your baby!

More Tips

Learn how to time contractions and practice a bit. Don't be too excited or too anxious. Just try to ignore the contraction to get the normal and exact figure. Also, only time the contractions when they have obviously changed in intensity or duration, or are coming much more frequently. The idea is to let nature take its course and not get too anxious about what is happening, but keeps a casual eye on things until you know it's all reaching a regular rhythm.

Got any questions about the contractions? Never hesitate to call your doctor or midwife to get some reassurance.