How to Count Contractions & What to Do Next

Feb 1, 2020
How to Count Contractions & What to Do Next

How to Count Contractions & Understand Them

They say timing is everything, which has never been more the case than during labor when the real contractions hit. Timing the frequency of contractions is essential to determining what type of contractions you’re experiencing and how close you are to having your baby. Counting the duration also gives you something to focus on as you go through the pain and discomfort that often comes with the early stages of childbirth. 

Learning how to count contractions is simple. Mark down when a contraction starts and when it ends. It’s important to keep track because the labor pains and sensations you’re feeling may make you think the contraction is lasting longer than it really is. Use a timer to be accurate. 

Next, note how much time lapses between contractions. It’s common to want to estimate the time or think you’ll remember by keeping an eye on the clock, but when it comes to timing contractions, every second counts during the birthing process. When contractions are five to seven minutes apart consistently, call your doctor and see if it’s time for your to come in. Once contractions start to become less irregular, it may be time to head to the hospital.

Different Types and Timing of Contractions

It’s important for your partner or support system to learn how to time contractions as they occur. If you’re experiencing intense ones or in a great deal of pain, it’ll be difficult to concentrate on how much time is going by. Your focus will be on breathing regularly and relaxing as much as possible. 

Braxton Hicks “Practice” Contractions

Birthing contractions vary in frequency and intensity depending on what type of contraction it is. However, labor contractions aren’t the only kind you’ll experience during pregnancy. Many women also experience Braxton Hicks symptoms, which often occur during mid-term pregnancy and can continue off and on until the baby is born. 

It’s not as necessary to know how to time contractions that are “false alarms,” since they happen infrequently and only last a few seconds. They’re characterized by a tightening in the uterus. For most women, they are painless, although they may cause discomfort around the abdomen. Walking around or switching positions helps to alleviate these practice uterine contractions.

Early Labor Contractions

As you draw near your baby’s due date, you’ll be hyper-aware of changes in the body. You may still experience Braxton Hicks contractions as symptoms of preterm labor, before they turn into the real deal. When your labor starts, early contractions can last anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds and will come in regular intervals. At first, several minutes may pass before the next one, but the frequency is consistent. During this phase of labor, your water may break as your cervix begins to open. 

Active Labor Contractions

Contractions during active labor have less time in between and last longer. They typically start at three to five minutes of rest between contractions that can last up to a minute. They intensify as the cervix dilates and may quickly turn into 90-second contractions with only 30 seconds in between. Exact timing will vary from person to person, but an increase in frequency, intensity, and consistency all mark the signs that you’re about ready to deliver.

How Will Contractions Feel?

False labor contractions are usually painless and make the belly feel tight. They may cause discomfort but won’t intensify the way real contractions do. These may be triggered if you’re fatigued or dehydrated. While it’s good to stay active when pregnant, always consult with your doctor about what levels of activity are healthiest for you. Overexerting yourself can cause a strain on your body and the baby.

So, what do contractions feel like? Labor contractions may feel like strong menstrual cramps, increased pressure on the abdomen and back, and may be accompanied by signs and symptoms such as hot flashes or chills, lightheadedness, and nausea or vomiting. Regardless of how much you prepare for how you think they’ll feel, it’s always different when the time comes. It can feel overwhelming but remember that it’s the body’s way of preparing for birth. The during part is intense, the after feels like sweet relief. 

Importance of Timing Contractions

Learning how to time contractions is one of the many new things you’ll learn during pregnancy, but it is very beneficial to recognize what is a contraction and what is not. It’s important because when the delivery date nears, you’ll want to feel prepared. It’s tough to tell exactly when labor contractions may hit since babies run on their own schedule. If contractions start before the actual due date, timing them will let you if it’s a false alarm or if the baby is coming early. 

Knowing how to identify real labor contractions will provide you a better peace of mind for when the exciting day of delivery actually comes. The journey to motherhood comes with an education that may at times feel neverending, but you’ll have the help of your doctor, nurses, support system, and other moms to guide you along the way. 

Though there’s little predictability as to what kind of contractions you’ll experience and when you’ll experience them, there’s a solid method for how to count them. Let this certainty serve as a focal point for you when you make the transition into active labor and delivery. When the regular contractions come, you’ll have a certain expectation for how they should feel and what the timing between each one means.


We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.

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