contraction intervals

The Ultimate Guide to Measuring Contraction Intervals


At the end of pregnancy and during labor, women experience uterine muscular contractions, which is a periodic spasm and relaxation of the uterine muscles. Measuring labor is a useful way to determine if you are in labor and how soon labor will occur. Read the information on how to measure contraction spacing.

How do you know when to measure contraction intervals?

First, recognize what a contraction feels like.

Many women describe contractions as a pain that begins in the lower back and waves up toward the abdomen. The feeling is also often described as similar to menstrual cramps or constipation. With each contraction, the pain is mild at first, builds to a peak, and then subsides. During the contractions, the abdomen becomes hard. For some women, the pain stays in the lower back. Contractions feel different for every woman. At the beginning of labor, most contractions last 60 to 90 seconds and occur every 15 to 20 minutes. They become shorter but more frequent when the labor pains come

Measure the interval between contractions when you feel a few contractions in a row.

It’s common to feel a contraction here and there in the months leading up to labor. Your body is “training” for the actual birth, and it’s usually nothing to worry about. As your due date approaches and you feel multiple contractions that follow a regular rhythm, measure the intervals between them so you can determine if you’re in labor.

Measurement method for your contractions

Decide which measurement tools you want to use.

It can be a stopwatch, a clock with a second hand, or an online timing tool to track the frequency and duration of your contractions. Also, have a pencil and paper handy so you can jot down the numbers and spot patterns. Use an accurate timer instead of a digital clock with no seconds. Because labor often lasts less than a minute, it’s important to time it to the second. Create a chart to easily record the data. Create a column titled “Contractions,” one titled “Start Time,” and a third titled “End Time.” Also make a fourth column to calculate the “duration” of each contraction and a fifth column “time between contractions” to calculate the elapsed time between the start of one contraction and the start of the next.

Start timing at the beginning of a contraction.

Don’t start in the middle or at the end of a contraction that has already happened. If you’re in the middle of a contraction when you decide to start timing, wait for the next contraction to start.

Note the time when the contraction begins.

When you feel your stomach tighten, start the timer or check your watch and write the time in the “Start Time” column. The more specific you are, the better. For example, instead of “22”, write “22:03:30.” If the contraction started exactly at 10 p.m., then write “10:00 p.m.”

Note the time when the contraction ends.

When the pain subsides and the contraction ends, note the exact time. Include as much information as possible and be as specific as possible. Now that the first contraction is over, you can fill in the “Duration” column. For example, if the contraction started at 10:03:30 and ended at 10:04:20, the duration of the contraction was 50 seconds. Note additional information about the contraction. Where did the pain start, how did it feel and more. This might be useful if more contractions come and you start noticing a pattern.

Note the time when the next contraction begins.

Subtract the start time of the previous contraction from the start time of this contraction and you’ll know how far apart your contractions are. For example, if the previous contraction started at 10:03:30 and this contraction started at 10:13:30, your contractions are exactly 10 minutes apart.

Recognize labor pains

Recognize the signs of labor pains.

In some cases, women have a series of contractions before they actually go into labor. These are called “false labor” or Braxton Hicks contractions. Knowing the difference between real labor and fake labor will help you decide what steps to take next. Labor pains become more and more frequent and don’t last as long as the hours go by, false labor doesn’t follow a predictable pattern. Labor pains will continue even if you change positions or move, while false contractions may go away if you move. Labor pains become stronger and more painful over time, while false labor is weaker.

Other signs that childbirth is near.

Besides regular contractions, there are other physical signs that a woman is in labor and not false labor. You will notice the following changes: Breaking of the amniotic sac. The baby “lightens”, or falls further towards the cervix. You may find blood (brown or blood-red mucus) in the panties. The cervix gradually becomes thinner and softer (dissolution).

Knowing when to prepare for childbirth.

It’s time to go to the hospital or call the midwife when the real labor pains hit. This should be done when strong contractions lasting 45 to 60 seconds occur 3 to 4 minutes apart.


Always listen to your doctor and their instructions for specific situations. If you want to get more mother and baby product deals and discounts, click here.


About the Author

Linda Jeasie

Linda Jeasie is a writer and content editor with over a decade of experience covering consumer gadgets and mobile tech. Before going freelance, she got her start as an editor at, a coupon and review website. These days she writes about gaming, life hacks, apps and software, and financial subjects for a variety of publications.