Timing Contractions


You will need a watch, or clock, with a second hand and a labouring woman!

  • Time the contractions from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next one, this tells you how far apart the contractions are.
  • How long a contraction lasts is from the beginning of the contraction until the end of that contraction.
  • There is no need to time all the contractions during prelabour. This will become tiresome and place pressure on the woman to get into labour. You may wish to time a few contractions every few hours or time some in the early phase of 1st stage to see if a rhythm is developing.
  • Some partners write each contraction down. This is OK if you are bored, but not necessary. When the woman is in strong labour, pen and paper will quickly be disregarded!
  • Intermittent timing is preferred over continual timing, otherwise the main focus will be on the clock (and for the woman to labour faster). Continual timing can also distract the partner or support person instead of ‘being there’ completely of the woman.
  • Time some when they are 7 to10 minutes apart, then stop timing them (these are prelabour contractions and can remain like this for some time). Time the contractions again when they appear closer together, say 5 to 7 minutes apart. You may wish to time a few just before contacting your caregiver (this is one of the questions they normally ask you).
  • Contact your LMC OR hospital midwife when the woman feels she needs to talk with someone, or wants to leave home for the hospital or birth centre. If she is giving birth at home it will be when she requests her caregiver to be with her.
  • Your caregiver will usually ask you how often the contractions are coming, and how long they are lasting. The caregiver may stay on the phone while the woman has 1 or 2 contractions to listen to the sounds she is making and the depth of her breathing. This can give the caregiver some feedback about the intensity of the contractions and the possible stage of labour.
  • Most caregivers use a benchmark for when the contractions are coming every 3 to 5 minutes, lasting for around a minute each time, to indicate that the woman is in established labour (or the strong, active phase of the 1st stage). Be aware that this benchmark may not reflect the progress of every woman’s labour.

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