How to Time Contractions


When your baby's arrival gets close, you need to know how to time contractions to determine when labor becomes active and you need to go to the hospital or contact your midwife. Discuss with your health care provider her preferred plan of action and when you should call or head in. Keep in mind the driving distance from your care provider in order to ensure you have plenty of time to arrive. Timing your contractions will help you know when labor has started and when you need to act in order to have a safe delivery.

Things You'll Need

  • Watch or stopwatch that counts seconds
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Timing Braxton Hicks, or practice contractions, is helpful in the months leading up to labor to learn how to time them and to practice recording them for your health care provider. Contractions are often described as a tightening or cramping in the abdomen and might be accompanied by an upset stomach, bloody or pink show, and will intensify no matter what you are doing. True labor contractions get longer, stronger, and closer together as labor progresses. Start the stopwatch as a contraction begins. Write down the precise start time of the contraction.

  • Write down how long the contraction lasts. This is important for your health care provider to know to determine how to care for you and prepare for the baby's arrival. Most typical contractions last 30 to 90 seconds, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

  • Write down the start time of the next contraction. This will help determine how far apart contractions are occurring and help determine your contraction pattern.

Tips & Warnings

  • Most doctors will tell you to head to the hospital when you have contractions that are intense enough that you cannot talk through them and they follow what is known as the 5:1:1 rule: they are five minutes or less apart, one minute in duration, and they stay in that pattern for one hour. You should speak with your health care provider regarding your health care needs and the distance you live from the delivery location in order to determine your labor and delivery plan.
  • If you are concerned at any point during a contraction or about your health, contact your health care provider.
  • Contact your health care provider immediately if your water breaks, you have more than a red tinge of blood, green-brown discharge or anything else that concerns you.


  • Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
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