How to Time Contractions in Labor

Pregnant woman looking at her watch while in labor

The days of a “labor coach” following someone around in labor with a stopwatch are, thankfully, over. It’s really not necessary to time every single contraction when you are in labor. It’s enough to time 5-10 contractions in a row to get a good idea of what’s going on, and then put away the timing for a few hours, or until you feel like something has changed. Paying too much attention to the timing constantly can cause watched pot syndrome.

Most people will use an app for timing labor contractions, there are many free ones available for all kinds of smartphones, and I’d suggest playing around with one or two of them to make sure you know how they work.

Most of the apps will simply ask you to tap when a contraction begins, and tap again when it ends. Which works great, if you always remember both. Some apps let you go back and edit with an estimated time if you forget. I think that’s a useful feature.

Contraction Timer Screenshot

I also think it’s helpful if an app lets you pause the timing for a few hours without thinking you’re taking a REALLY long break between contractions.

Most of the apps will calculate two important things for you:

Frequency – (Sometimes called “interval”) this is how often the contractions are coming. It’s the time from the start of one to the start of another, and it’s the first thing most midwives, doctors or nurses will ask you when you say you’re in labor. The app will calculate the average interval in a series of contractions.

Duration – this is the time from the start of a contraction to the end. Again, the apps will calculate the average in a series so you get an overall idea.

Some of the apps will also let you rate an intensity for each contraction, but I honestly think that’s a bad idea and not very helpful.

Keep in mind that the timing doesn’t have to be exact, and slight variations are very, very normal. If you think the contractions are coming in pairs, read more about coupled contractions

If you don’t want to use an app, it’s fairly simple to do the same thing yourself, just write down start and stop times and do a little math. The key is remembering that when we talk about how far apart they are (frequency) it means start to start, not the break in between.