When do I Start Timing Contractions in Labor?


Great question, when do you start timing contractions?

Timing contractions is basically a rite of passage for parents, it signals the official start of labor, and it means that in the next 4-20 hours you will be holding your baby in your arms, for the first time. ** Just a note, this post is geared towards first time parents, timing contractions for their first time ever**

How to time contractions

Timing contractions can be done on an app or using a timer on your phone. We love apps because it will automatically calculate how long your contractions are, how far apart they are, and how frequently they are coming! Timing a contraction will begin when the contraction begins to build, start then, and when the contraction begins to wind down, stop.

The length of a contraction is considered how long a contraction is from start to stop. The distance between or frequency of each contraction is the start of one contraction to the start of the next contraction. So one contraction starts, it lasts 1.5 minutes, you have a 3 minute break, then the next contraction starts. This means that your contractions are 4.5 minutes apart! You are moving right along in labor!

Avoid timing contractions too early

This is a common mistake for first time parents. They get wrapped up in timing contractions can be pretty easy for parents experiencing their first labor. As you will learn in your childbirth education class, staying distracted in labor is beneficial for keeping you comfortable and getting you through the long early labor easier. Early labor can be long and boring with contractions coming every so often. In early labor you should be going about your day, chatting with your Doula or perhaps calling your provider to give them a heads up!

Constantly staring at the app, trying to will labor to move faster and for contractions to come closer together will mean you are focusing on labor, early labor, which in turn will make it more uncomfortable and when labor picks up to active labor, you will be over it and ready to be done.

Our advice to you is to time contractions when they start to see where you are at and then put the app away and come back to it when you notice a big change. What sort of change will you look for? Early labor contractions can be worked through very easily and while you are doing your normal day to day tasks. When you begin timing contractions at this point you will notice they are short and far apart, a big change will happen when you suddenly need to focus through them, or they are suddenly lasting longer. When you notice this big change, time again for about an hour to check on the change.

You’ve timed contractions, now when do you go into the hospital?

After the first big change, call in your support team, your Doula or whoever is supporting you and update them on your progress. Usually your Doula will labor at home with you for a while before you head into the hospital. The first big change does not necessarily mean that you need to head into the hospital, especially if you are low risk and planning an unmedicated labor.

When your contractions hit 5 minutes apart, lasting at least 1 minute long, for at least 1 hour (we recommend 2 hours though), you can head in to your birthing location! Sometimes labor stops and starts and we recommend a childbirth education class to help you know what to expect in labor, and how to navigate the potential patterns in labor!

Now that you know how to time contractions, you only need to wait for labor to begin! We wish you a wonderful birth experience!