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Timing Contractions The Easy Way

how to accurately time contractions throughout labor

Hi there mama. So you’re thinking about labor and, if you’re like a lot of the moms I work with, you have some questions. Like – How do I know when labor starts? How will I recognize a contractions? And how will I know when to call the midwife, or go into the hospital.

Well – the answer to many of these questions has to do with your contractions. Specifically, how often they come, how long they last and how intense they feel. When you are communicating with your care providers, you will need to be able to answer questions about your contractions.

Which means – timing contractions is important. (And don’t worry – it’s much easier than you think!) So in this article – we will show you how to time contractions and what you will need to know about them so you can communicate well with your care provider.

How To Time Contractions The Easy Way

First, I’m going to give you the steps to time a contraction – then in the rest of the article, I will answer you questions about how in more detail.

  1. You need to download a contraction timer like FullTerm, Freya or Gentle Birth Contractions Timer.
  2. When you feel a contraction start, you hit the start button.
  3. When you feel the contraction is over, you hit the stop button.

The app will make a chart for you that shows how long the contraction was, how long it was between this contractions and the one before, what happened in the last hour, and what happened in the last six hours.

TIming contractions is really as simple as. that.

But – still have questions – keep reading because we can answer them.

How Will I Recognize A Contraction And Know How To Time It?

Many moms wonder how will the recognize contractions and what do they feel like? Well, we have an entire article on what contractions feel like throughout labor. If you want a detailed answer, I’d take a look at it.

What is important is that you will be able to recognize a contraction because it will have a beginning and an end. It will also have a rise, a peak and a fall.

You can see in the strip above that the contractions timed here look a lot like waves. They aren’t a steady cramping feeling. They have a defined time of work and rest. Another way to say that is your uterus has a time when it is contracting (like when you do a bicep curl) and when it is doing nothing.

So you will feel the sensation come and go. This is the sensation you are looking for that you will be timing.

When Should You Start Timing Contractions

In my childbirth course, where you can learn all about labor start to finish, many moms are surprised to find out that when you include early labor, labor is often a two day process.

Now, early contractions are not painful, even though they are noticeable.

You should start timing contractions when you start feeling them. If you feel like your contractions are present, but you can still walk, talk, breathe, watch a show, nest and otherwise go about your day, then you do not have to keep timing them forever.

Time them for an hour to get a baseline of where they are, then continue going about your day. It’s okay to ignore them for a while longer.

It’s a good idea to shoot your doula a text to let her know you are timing contractions. It’s also a good idea to let your doctors office or midwife know, just so they have a head’s up they will be seeing you likely today or tomorrow.

If contractions continue, but stay light, track them for another hour in 3 or 4 hours to get another baseline. That way you can see if in general, they are getting longer, stronger or closer together.

Once you feel like you can no longer go about your day, and all your focus is on laboring, time your contractions continuously.

When Should You Stop Timing Contractions

If your contractions are 10 to 15 minutes apart or longer, or less than a 3 on a pain scale, then you don’t need to time the continuously. It’s best to ignore labor as best you can and find things to keep your mind and body busy.

Go get a massage or your nails done, or better yet, go out to your favorite restaurant. Do something that will make you feel good and pass time.

If your contractions are getting strong enough that you couldn’t enjoy a meal or a manicure, then you should be timing your contractions more or less continually.

Continue to time your contractions until you go to the hospital, birth center or the midwife meets you at home.

How Will I Know If I Am Experiencing False Labor Or Real Labor?

Contractions in early or pre labor can be quite confusing. That’s why it is okay to put down the contraction timer app and go enjoy your life doing other things if your contractions aren’t progressing.

In this picture of timed contractions, a mom was having contractions a minute long, ten minutes apart. But they weren’t that strong and they fizzed out, coming and going over the next several days.

She didn’t have her baby for over a week later!

On the other hand, some moms could have this contractions pattern and have their baby that day!

Birth can be wild and unfolds differently for everyone. That’s why communication. is so important.

How can you tell if you’re really in labor or just experiencing practice or warm up contractions?

They will get longer, stronger and closer together. Usually, when your contractions are coming 5 minutes from the start of one to the start of another and last a minute long you are ready to go to the hospital.

Some hospitals or midwives will request you wait until they are 4 minutes or 3 minutes apart instead of 5.

But, one of the most important differences between real and pre labor is intensity. Without intensity increasing, it’s unlikely you are in active labor.

Intensity And How That Factors Into Timing Contractions

contraction intensity sclae showing 0-10 happy to angry for how to time contractions with intensity scale

Your contraction timer app will tell you how long and how frequent your contractions are. But intensity is something you report on your own.

I’ve been with over 200 moms through labor, and I have never seen someone at a 3 or below enter active labor. Even those who practice hypnobirthing and have the ability to look 100% serene through contractions typically report an intensity level at 4-6 as they enter active labor.

This is why, if you feel the intensity is at 3 or below on the intensity scale and you’re timing contractions it’s good to report it, then ignore it. Call your care provider, get their advice, then go about doing the most interesting things you can to take your mind off of it.

if it’s been going on this way for a while, they may have ideas and tools for you to get out of prodromal labor and into active labor.

If you’re at 4-6, sure, ignore it if you can, but also, welcome to active labor mama! These contractions are likely the real deal and you’re likely meeting your baby soon.

How To Time Contractions When They Feel Constant

Some moms say they can’t feel a rise a peak and a fall in their contraction. What do you do to time contractions if they feel constant?

Well, let’s go back to the intensity chart above. If you are at 3 or less and what you are feeling feels like cramping, a constant back ache or just feeling very sore, you are probably just experiencing early labor symptoms.

Sometimes is early or prelabor, contractions feel constant. They haven’t gained enough momentum to have a strong start and stop. Call your care provider to check in, but it’s nothing to worry about. Likely with time you will notice a more regular pattern.

How To Time Contractions When They Feel Constant And Painful?

If you feel like you are at an intensity level of pain that is 5 or above and you cannot time contractions because they are constant, please call your care provider immediately.

There are a few times where you may feel a continuous pain and you and your baby are okay, but you could be near the end of labor.

One instance is a precipitous labor. A precipitous labor, or rapid labor, is when a mom goes into labor and has contractions for less than 3 hours before she has her baby. While it may be tempting to wish for this type of labor they can sometimes be shocking. Some moms with rapid labors have no breaks between contractions and intensity levels of 8,9 or even 10.

If you’re having no breaks between contractions and high intensity, skip timing contractions and get to the hospital or birth center!

It is also possible that you are not feeling contractions, but there is something else wrong. Either way, if there is no break between contractions, and the intensity level is up there, call your care provider ASAP.

What Is The 511 Rule, The 411 Rule and the 311 Rule?

Mom leaning on tree while experiencing a contraction

The 511 rule, 411 rule and 311 rule are different suggestions for when to go to the hospital, birth center or have your midwife meet you at home. You will likely talk about one of these in one of your prenatal appointments.

What Is The 511 Rule?

The 511 rule is one of the best ways to recognize active labor. If contractions are 5 minutes apart, a minute long and have been that way for an hour (and your intensity level is between 4-6) you are likely in active labor.

At this point, most hospitals will admit you. So, it is a good time to head in. I always recommend calling and letting them know you are on your way when you hit this point.

Contractions Are 5 Minutes Apart, How Long Until Birth?

While it is exciting to get to where contractions are 5 minutes apart, it is usually not a sign to rush. At 5 minutes apart, the body is typically entering active labor. Once active labor starts, most moms will progress about 1 cm every 1 to 2 hours.

That means you could have 5-20 hours ahead on average. Of course, some moms will have less and others will have more. Every body labors in it’s own unique path. And that is okay.

If you are wanting an epidural, the good news is you can likely get one now! Congratulations.

Also- epidural moms, make sure to check out our birth class for tools and strategies to reduce tearing and other complications that are common with epidurals.

No intervention moms – read on to the 411 rule.

What Is The 411 Rule?

Moms who don’t want an epidural, who feel uncomfortable in the hospital, or who want to labor at home as long as possible, may want to wait to head into the hospital until their contractions are only 4 minutes apart, last a minute lng and have been that way for an hour.

At this point you will be farther into labor, but should have plenty of time to ge to your intended place of birth in time.

I notice that most midwives and birth centers recommend the 411 rule. Encouraging moms to stay in their warm, comfortable home a bit longer than those heading to the hospital.

Natural moms, make sure to check out the pain coping skills, breathing patterns and position guides in our childbirth class to help you navigate your way to this point and beyond!

What Is The 311 Rule?

The 311 rule is probably pretty easy to figure out at this point. Contractions are 3 minutes apart, last at least a minute long and have been this way for an hour.

This is the rule for moms who want to show up to their place of birth and give birth.

What If Your Contractions Jump To 3 Minutes Apart And Never Really Fit The 511 Rule?

Remember that every body labors differently. If your contractions went from barely existing to three minutes apart, it’s a good idea to head into your birth place. It’s possible to go through active labor with contractions always being as close as 3 minutes apart. Typically, you will be in active labor less time if this is you.

Other moms may take a much slower path. Their contractions will move from five minutes apart to four minutes apart to 3 minutes apart. By the time contractions are two minutes apart, a mom is usually getting close or entering transition. Which means soon, she will be pushing her baby out and meeting them!

Remember, if you’re worried, just call your midwife or doula. Your team is there to help you navigate all of this. You shouldn;t have to do it alone.

What Is The Best Contraction Timer App?

Mom looking at watch to time contractions frequency and interval

Full Term – Full Term is my favorite contractions timer app. It’s free. It has no ads that interfere with timing contractions. And it gives a clear summary of what happened. in the last hour and 6 hours. If you swipe to the right, you also get a nice chart showing how often the contraction are coming. This app makes timing contractions so simple.

Freya Birth – Freya birth only costs $2.99 at the time I’m writing this, If you are a mom that benefits from positive affirmations, calm music and hypnosis this can be a good one. Between contractions a calm hypnotic voice repeats affirmations and tells you positive labor stories. During contractions, the voice helps you count out and slow down your breathing. It’s great for moms who like something to focus their mind on.

Storky Contraction Timer – Again this has a very simple interface and gives a good summary of your labor. It’s a simple start and stop button and alerts you when you hit the 511 rule. If you’re wanting a simple app that has made how to time contractions easy, this i a great one.

Timing Contractions Summary: How To Time Contractions Simply

pregnant couple on bed with young toddler contraction encouragement and contraction timing

Timing contractions is pretty simple. Though labor can unfold in a variety of ways, knowing how to time your contractions at home properly can help you communicate well with your care provider.

Remember to focus on the frequency, duration, and intensity of contractions, and always consult with a healthcare professional to ensure proper guidance throughout the labor process.

By empowering yourself with the knowledge and skills to time contractions effectively, you can approach childbirth with confidence and peace of mind, knowing that you are equipped to recognize the signs of labor and take appropriate action when the time comes.