The end of pregnancy brings with it a lot of changes. One key change for many women is the beginning of painful contractions that make it difficult to discern Braxton-Hicks contractions from the real thing. Learning how to time contraction length and frequency will help you to tell the difference between false labor and real labor, so you can get medical help promptly when the time comes.

Why Is Contraction Timing Important?

Contraction timing is important for several reasons. First, it gives you an idea of whether you are in real labor or if your uterus is still warming up for the real event. Many women have steadily worsening false labor in the weeks leading up to labor. The contractions in false labor, also known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, will usually have an irregular length and timing. One may last 30 seconds while the next is one minute and yet another 15 seconds. The distance from one contraction to the next will be similarly erratic.

Real labor, on the other hand, has contractions of a steady and predictable length. In addition, the time from one contraction to the next becomes very regular. Contractions slowly become more frequent and closer together. Timing your contractions will make it clear whether this is real labor or not.

Proper Timing of Contractions

One of the most important things to remember when learning how to time contractions is their frequency. This is the length of time from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. It is important to time this rather than the time between contractions because this measurement is how obstetricians and labor nurses determine when you are in labor.

There are a few other things that you should know when trying to decide whether you are in labor. First, you should keep track of the length of your contractions. True labor usually involves contractions of predictable length. They may steadily become longer but should not dramatically or quickly change. If your contractions become so long that you do not have much rest between them, a condition called tachysystole, you may need immediate medical intervention.

The 5-1-1 Rule: How to Know When You Are in Labor

Many people run to the hospital as soon as their contractions reach five minutes apart. However, this leads to a lot of false alarms. Most experts in birth look to a “5-1-1” rule to determine when it is time to head for the labor and delivery ward. The frequency of your contractions is not the only indication that you are in labor. In general, most women will be in labor once they have had contractions five minutes apart lasting at least one minute for about one hour.

There are several variations of the 5-1-1 rule. Some professionals use 3-1-1 or 4-1-1. However, it is generally acceptable to go to the hospital when your contractions are five or less minutes apart and have been so for a considerable length of time.

Contractions can be painful and even scary. However, they are usually an exciting occurrence because it means that a baby is on the way. Learning to time them properly will ensure that you make it to the hospital at the right time.