A guide to timing contractions during your birth

Contractions in labour are essential in pushing the baby’s head onto the cervix, which progresses cervical dilation and moves baby further into the birth canal. There are many factors that midwives look at when trying to decipher whether contractions are effectively progressing labour. These include the strength of the contractions, how long the contractions last for and how often the contractions are coming. Uterine contractions are evaluated by using external monitoring, touch and observing the woman’s behaviour. The pattern of the contractions is important as it can help determine the progress of labour.

Should you time your contractions at home?

When you are in early labour, it can be more useful to not time your contractions and to try to ignore them. By distracting yourself as much as you can for as long as you can, you may be able to progress more effectively in labour. Focusing on ‘how long you’ve been in labour for’ can reduce your labour progress and inhibit you from getting into a calm zone.

Once you are unable to ignore the contractions, you or your partner can start to time them so that when you call the hospital you are able to give them accurate information about your labour contractions. Your TENS machine from Bliss Birth has a contraction timer function, which can be helpful in timing your contractions. Once you have timed your contractions for around 30-60 minutes, you will have a good idea of your contraction pattern and your midwives will be able to give you advice based on your specific circumstances.

What are contractions like in early labour?

Early labour contractions are a lot less predictable and irregular. They can start and stop over a period of a few days/hours and you are generally still able to talk through them. For example you may have 2 contractions in 10 minutes, then 1 contraction in 10 minutes, then no contractions in 10 minutes, than 3 contractions in 10 minutes – there is no pattern to them. The irregularity and reduced strength of the contractions in early labour can be part of the reason why the early labour phase is the longest phase of labour.

What are contractions like in active labour?

Active labour can be defined as anytime from 4-6cm dilation, with strong regular
contractions. It is important to know that every woman is different in their labour progress. Generally, in active labour you will have 3-4 contractions in every 10 minute period (meaning your contractions are 2.5-3 minutes apart) and these contractions are strong (meaning that they are painful and you are unable to talk through them).

What are contractions like in the pushing stage of labour?

During pushing you may find that your contractions themselves are stronger and last longer, but that you have more of a gap in between. This does not mean that your labour is stalling, but that your body is giving you more time to rest, regenerate your energy and take in more oxygen in for you and your baby in between contractions. Generally during pushing you will have 2-3 contractions in a 10 minute period.

Therefore, the timing of your contractions is important in determining how you are
progressing in labour. If you can ignore them for as long as possible before timing them, you will be able to stay focused and in the zone during your labour. Make sure that you have timed them for at least 30 minutes to be able to accurately tell your midwife about your pattern of contractions.

Remember, your contractions are working with you to help you meet your baby, they are not working against you.

Written by Lauren Brenton (@OneMamaMidwife)

Cover photo @officialmichellec

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