The Final Moments of Pregnancy: How to Time Contractions


The last week or two of pregnancy can feel like forever. You will probably just want to get it over with already. Mostly to welcome your new bundle of joy, but also to stop the discomfort that pregnancy brings. As your set due date approaches, your body will be doing much preparation.

Many things happen in these last few days. To prepare yourself, you should make sure that, once your labor signs start, you have everything together for the trip to the hospital or your midwife.

Stages of Labor

Three stages of labor

There are four different stages that you go through while in labor. These stages begin with the dilation of the cervix. Next, the delivery window starts when the cervix is fully dilated and ends with the birth of your baby. Thirdly, once your baby is delivered, it is time to deliver the placenta. The fourth stage begins with placenta delivery and ends one or two hours afterward.

Many signs will alert you to being in labor. Not all of these symptoms occur in the same order. They all can last various amounts of time and have different severity for every woman.

5 Signs of Labor

1. Lightening

Doctor holding pregnant woman's hands for encourage
  • As your baby begins to travel through the birth canal, it settles lower into your pelvis.
  • The urge to urinate more often may occur as the baby moves lower and puts more pressure on your bladder.
  • This can happen a few hours before delivery or up to a few weeks.

2. Labor Contractions

  • Contractions are one of the most telltale signs of labor, and there are three types of it.
  • They typically feel like awful menstrual cramps but differ for every woman.
  • Contractions start at the top of the uterus and reach the bottom with wave-like motions.
  • True labor contractions do not cease when switching positions or relaxing.

[Read more about Labor Contractions]

3. Dilation of the cervix – Effacement

Picture of Effacement
  • Your cervix starts to thin out and stretch to be able to pass your baby through the birth canal.
  • Effacement is measured from 0%-100%. 0% means that the cervix is not at all effaced. 100% is, of course, full dilation.
  • These changes are found during a pelvic exam.

4. Water breaking

  • When your water breaks, write down how much fluid is released and what time it happened.
  • Your baby will be delivered within 24 hours even if labor has not officially started yet.
  • Not every woman’s water breaks during labor, and the doctor will break the amniotic membrane to aid in delivery.

[Read more about Water Break]

5. Passing of the mucus plug

  • As the cervix starts to expand to make room for the baby, the mucus that has accumulated during the pregnancy is discharged into the vagina.
  • The mucus can be pink, slightly bloody, or clear.
  • Labor can begin soon, or it can take as long as two weeks.

3 Types of Contractions

Three types of contractions can happen throughout pregnancy. There is true labor, false labor and something called Braxton Hicks. Having these contractions are completely normal and usually are not anything to worry about.

Braxton Hicks

Braxton hicks contractions during pregnancy
  • Early in your pregnancy, your uterus can contract and tighten as preparation for the main event. This is referred to as Braxton Hicks. This type of contraction can start as early as the middle of your pregnancy.

False Labor

  • False contractions may happen when the body is ripening the cervix for birth. They will usually subside with rest or when you change positions. False labor is also another way that the body prepares for giving birth.

True Labor

  • If you are having real contractions, they will not just stop like the other two types. In fact, the contractions will become more severe and will start to happen more often. They will also start to last longer as time goes on.

Timing Your Contractions

Husband timing contractions for wife in hospital

Contractions are caused by the uterus tightening while the cervix and lower uterus relax to make room in the birth canal.

As these contractions are happening, it is important to keep track of when they occur and how long they last. This is crucial to knowing when it is time to go to the hospital or call your midwife.

While you are timing your contractions, there are a few things to take note of. When they start, begin to write down the time and duration of each contraction, along with how much time is in between each.

There are a few ways you can track your time, just use whatever works for you, whether it be with a pen and paper or on your cell phone. Use a timer to measure the time unless you miss the start time of a contraction. If that happens, wait until the next one.

There are also apps and programs on the computer that can help track contraction specifically. This way, you will not have to work out the math yourself. You can also take the average of the contractions and check in that way.

While timing your contractions, you will need to measure from the very beginning of a contraction until the end. As I said earlier, if you miss one just skip it and wait for another.

Relief from Discomfort

Pregnant woman takign a hot bath for relief

Contractions are uncomfortable; there is no way to stop them but you can try some techniques that can help ease the pain. One way is to visualize them as good things. Each painful contraction is bringing you closer to holding your baby in your arms.

Instead of feeling the brunt of the pain, try to relax and work with your body to alleviate it. This can be just like meditating, trying to keep your breathing steady and body relaxed. Distracting yourself will help as well.

A warm bath or shower will help as well. If your water has broken, check with your doctor to make sure you are able to take a bath in the tub. Sleeping is also a great way to help your pain. You will definitely need your energy for giving birth.

When you have brought your child into the world, there is only a bit more left until you can truly relax and spend time with him or her. After delivering the placenta, your hard work is over.

Contractions are one of the most important things to pay attention to during labor. They can tell you a lot of things about what is going on in your body. Timing them is crucial and pretty easy with the right tools.



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