How to Assess Contractions by Palpation

Pregnant Women Can Use Their Fingertips to Palpate Their Uterus During a Contraction
Pregnant Women Can Use Their Fingertips to Palpate Their Uterus During a Contraction (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

If you are pregnant and experiencing Braxton Hicks or pre-labor contractions, you can use uterine palpation to determine the relative strength of your contractions. Palpation means pressing on the abdomen over the area of the uterus. By placing your fingertips or hand over this area, you can feel the uterus becoming hard. Along with the time between each contraction, this information can help you inform your physician or emergency care provider about your condition so that he can determine the condition's severity and decide if you need to go to the hospital.

Things You'll Need

  • Stopwatch
  • Watch
  • Notepad
  • Pencil
  • Water

Empty your bladder.

Lie down on your side and prop yourself up with pillows until you are comfortable.

Place one hand on your hipbone and allow your fingers to drape over the area of your uterus. Orient your fingers closer to the bottom of your uterus than the top.

Press down with the tips of your fingers. If you are not having a contraction, your fingers should sink into your skin. If you are having a contraction, the area will feel hard.

Continue to press throughout a contraction, noting how hard the uterus becomes. The stronger the contraction, the harder it will be to press your fingers into your abdomen.

Time the length of each contraction. Use both your own perception of pain or pressure, as well as the feeling under your fingertips, to note the beginning and end of each contraction.

Record the length of your contraction and your perception of the strength of the contraction. The harder your abdomen becomes, the stronger the contraction.

Continue to lie on your side and repeat steps 2 through 7 for an hour or until the contractions stop, whichever comes first. Feel free to switch positions if you become uncomfortable. Rate each new contraction as stronger, weaker or the same as the previous contraction.

Drink 24 ounces of water if the contractions do not develop a consistent or decreasing period of time between contractions or do not continually increase in intensity. If the contractions are consistently strong and increasing in frequency, skip to step 11.

Repeat steps 1 through 8 for another hour. If the contractions have not stopped or decreased in frequency to two or three in an hour, continue to the next step.

Contact your physician or your emergency care provider for further instructions. Have your contraction records on hand.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you feel the pain or pressure of a contraction but can still press your fingers into your abdomen the same distance that you can depress the tip of your nose, this contraction is not strong, and you should rate it as mild and not be alarmed.

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