How To Time Your Contractions

Soon-to-be-mom, is your due date around? If yes, it’s likely that you would be experiencing contractions. During this period, timing your contractions is very important. It can help you distinguish whether you are actually in labour or experiencing Braxton Hicks “practice” contractions.

Largely, contraction timing for labour can help in indicating how your labour is progressing. Armed with this information, it can also help your doctor assess how far along you are, and whether it’s time to head to the hospital.

To learn more about what a contraction actually is, how to time contractions, and when it’s time to head to the hospital, keep on reading!

What Are Contractions?

As labour begins, your cervix starts to dilate (open) and efface (thin out), and the muscles around your uterus contract to help your baby move down and through the birth canal.

A contraction feels like cramping or tightening that begins in your back and moves around to the front of your body. It can also sometimes feel like pressure in your back or pelvis, similar to menstrual cramps. Your belly tightens during contractions, and then relaxes and becomes softer in between.

Benefits of Timing Contractions

One benefit of timing contractions is that they can help you tell the difference between true and false labour contractions.

With false labour contractions, the contractions will likely go away with movement, will feel weak and irregular, and won’t increase in frequency over time.

When you have true labour contractions, you will feel them get stronger each time, and they will increase in frequency and duration. True labour contractions won’t go away even if you move or change positions.

Another benefit of knowing how to time your contractions is that you’ll be able to give this information to your doctor, who can then figure out whether it’s time for you to head to the hospital or birthing centre, or advise you to stay at home for a little longer.

How to Time Contractions During Labor

Here’s how to time your contractions:

  • Make a note of the time when your first contraction starts (“time”)

  • Write down how long the contraction lasts (“duration”)

  • Then mark the length of time from the start of the contraction to the start of the next one (“frequency”)

  • Keep noting these times for at least an hour to see if there is a pattern, and to see if the contractions are getting closer together.

You may prefer to ask your birth partner or midwife, to help time your contractions. That way, you’ll have one less thing to worry about, and your partner may appreciate having something useful to do to support you.

The Difference Between True and False Contractions

True labour contractions—the kind of contractions that lead to the birth of your baby—occur at regular intervals and increase in intensity and frequency over time.

If you have contractions that are irregular and don’t get stronger each time, you may be experiencing what is known as Braxton Hicks contractions or false contractions.

Braxton Hicks contractions are not yet the real thing; they are your body’s way of preparing for labour when the time comes.

Other signs of labour include your water breaking and a clear or pinkish vaginal discharge called the mucus plug.

When to Go to the Hospital

At one of your third trimester checkups, talk to your doctor about when she might recommend you head to the hospital, and follow any instructions given. This is also a good chance to ask what number to call in case you think that you are going into labour outside of your doctor’s usual hours.

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to call your doctor when you first notice the signs of labour such as your water breaking, the mucus plug discharge, or contractions.

On the phone, be ready to give information about the timing and intensity of your contractions as well as any other symptoms you’ve noticed. For example, you should always call your doctor if you notice vaginal bleeding.

Your doctor will use all the information to decide whether you should head to the hospital or birthing centre, or whether you should stay home a little longer where you may feel more comfortable and relaxed during the early stages of labour.

What Can You Do at Home During Early Labour?

Once contractions begin, you may still have some time to wait at home before your doctor tells you to head to the hospital.

While you wait at home, you might like to try to pass the time by doing things like

  • Breathing and relaxation exercises

  • Going for a walk

  • Lying down for a nap

  • Taking a shower or a bath

  • Listening to relaxing music or watching a movie

  • Packing any last-minute things in your hospital bag including your birth plan, if you have one.


Contractions can feel different for each woman, and they can even feel different when compared to previous labour. Contractions can feel like a dull backache, a pain in the lower abdomen, or pressure in the pelvic region. The feeling can sometimes be similar to that of menstrual or diarrhoea cramps.


As your due date approaches, contractions and labour can make you feel anxious. Let us tell you that it’s natural to feel so. To put your mind at ease, you should talk to your doctor about your concerns and worries. Just breathe through as your little one is about to grace your world in no time!

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