Here’s how to time your contractions

We look at how you should measure your labour contractions – and the space between them – so you can give your midwife or gynae an accurate picture of how your labour is progressing.

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If you don’t time your contractions correctly, you may end up spending extra time at the hospital before your birth, or you may cut it a little fine.
Many moms are sent home from hospital when they arrive with contractions 10 minutes apart as it can still be a while before they’re ready to give birth.

What do labour contractions feel like?

According to WebMD, your abdomen will become hard during contractions. “Between contractions, the uterus relaxes and the abdomen becomes soft.”
While contractions feel different for each woman and differ from pregnancy to pregnancy, labour contractions are usually uncomfortable and you’ll feel a dull ache in your back or lower abdomen, along with pressure in your pelvis.
“You can also prod your tummy gently to feel if it’s hard,” says gynaecologist Dr Mark van der Griendt. “However, if the contractions aren’t painful, they are most likely Braxton Hicks contractions.”
Contractions move in a wave-like motion from the top of the uterus to the bottom, and unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, true labour contractions don’t stop when you change your position or relax,” explain the experts on WebMD.

Timing your contractions

  • Time your contractions from the start of one contraction to the start of the next one. This will give you an indication of how far apart your contractions are.
  • “If your contractions are 3 to 5 minutes apart, lasting for approximately a minute each, you are likely in labour,” says gynaecologist Dr Mark van der Griendt. If this pattern is consistent for an hour, you are in labour and you should make your way to your hospital or birthing centre.Discuss with your doctor or midwife when exactly you should start heading to the hospital or birthing centre. Your location and whether you’re having your first or second baby will factor in to when you should be leaving.
  • If you feel at any time that your contractions seem wrong or if you can’t time the gap between them, call your doctor immediately.
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