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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.