During the last few weeks of pregnancy with your baby to be born after a loss, you are probably feeling a mix of excitement and nervousness. You are anxiously looking forward to holding your baby in your arms. But before you can give birth to your baby, your body has to get ready. This preparation happens when the cervix effaces and dilates, meaning it becomes thin and open.

How to Time Contractions: Simple Strategies for Keeping Track of Labor Patterns

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The work of uterine contractions is what facilitates cervical effacement and dilation, and it usually takes hours for this process to be complete. Only then will your body be ready to push your baby out[1]“First Stage of Labor,” American Pregnancy Association, https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/labor-and-birth/first-stage-of-labor/. While the anticipation of meeting your baby may have you wanting to rush to the hospital at the first sign of labor, it’s best to track your contractions first. If you’re wondering why it’s important to time contractions or how to count them, we’ve got you covered.

Why Is It Important to Track Contractions?

When you begin feeling what you think are contractions, you should start tracking them. Paying attention to the length of each surge and how much time passes between contractions will help you know if you’re in labor and not experiencing Braxton Hicks, or practice, contractions.

True labor contractions occur consistently and do not go away with a change in position. They also increase in length and grow in intensity as labor progresses.

How Do I Time Contractions?

When timing your contractions, it’s helpful to ask for assistance from your partner or another support person. Over the course of at least an hour, make note of the following[2]“Timing Contractions – What You Need to Know.” Bloomlife, https://bloomlife.com/preg-u/timing-contractions/.

  • When the contraction starts
  • When the contraction ends
  • How long the contraction lasts
  • How much time passes from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next one

You can use paper and pen to write down these numbers. When doing so, it’s often easiest to lay them out in a chart format, so you can readily see patterns. Some birthing families prefer a contraction tracking app on a phone, and that works, too. Choose the method that works best for you!

When Is It Time to Go to the Hospital?

While you’re still pregnant, you should discuss timing contractions and arriving at your birthing facility with your prenatal care team[3]“How to Tell When Labor Begins,” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, May 2020, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/how-to-tell-when-labor-begins. Work together to consider any risk factors you have and what that means for labor. Many clinicians will ask that you call when you begin having regular contractions. Protocols will be different if you are scheduled for an induction or a C-section.

The standard rule for when it’s time to go to the hospital is 5-1-1. This stands for contractions that are five minutes apart and last one minute over the course of one hour. Again, each pregnant person is unique, so it’s best to talk with your provider during the third trimester. Some practitioners prefer 4-1-1 or 3-1-1[4]Labor Day: What To Expect, By Judith A. Lothian, PhD, RN, LCCE, FACCE, and Kathryn McGrath, MW, LSW, CD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, Lamaze, https://www.lamaze.org/stages-of-labor.

How Can I Manage Discomfort During Contractions?

If your pregnancy is low risk and your baby does not have any known medical conditions, your provider may suggest you labor at home for a while before arriving at the hospital. In this case, you might need some coping strategies to handle the discomfort of contractions.

Some natural pain management strategies include walking, sitting or leaning on a birthing ball, taking a bath or shower, having a support person perform counter-pressure or massage, breathing rhythmically, and changing positions. If you are giving birth at a hospital, you will have additional pain management techniques available to you. One could be nitrous oxide, which is an option at some birth centers, too. Other pain relief strategies at hospitals include an epidural and intravenous medication.


When labor begins, timing contractions might seem like a tedious task, especially as you eagerly anticipate your baby’s birth. But tracking these surges will offer helpful information to both you and your provider.

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