With your baby soon to make their way into the world, we guide you through what you can expect from contractions, and how to time them so that baby's arrival is as smooth as possible.
You've waited nine months for this and when you do begin to go into labour, you'll want to be prepared. Labour can last for as little as a few hours for some mothers and up to a few days for others. Every birth is different, but keeping track of your contractions
can help to inform you how far along the birthing process you are.
When contractions start, first you'll want to make sure you aren't experiencing Braxton Hicks
, the 'red herring' of contractions. When you know that your baby is really coming, timing the length of each contraction and the time between them will help you know how close you are to meeting your newborn.
Of course, like many things in life, timing your contractions is something you can do by yourself; but equally it can be beneficial to enlist the help of a birthing partner - be that your other half or a good friend. Ask your birthing partner to stand by with a stopwatch with a second hand and a pen and paper, and get ready to meet your new baby.
How will I know I am going into 'true labour'?
Braxton Hicks contractions tend to occur intermittently throughout a pregnancy and will be shorter and less painful than real contractions. If you are nearing the end of your term and persistent contractions begin which are more rhythmic, and noticeably increase in duration, frequency and intensity as they build up, it's very likely that are you will soon be going into labour
and the birth of your baby has begun.
This is when to start timing your contractions. In early labour a contraction can typically be about 30 seconds long. Write down the time that each contraction begins and when it tapers off to find out how long your contractions are lasting at this stage. Also keep a note of the time between each one ending and the next one beginning, so that you know how frequent they are.
When should I head to hospital?
It is often advised that when the contractions last about a minute every 10 or 15 minutes, you should make your way to your chosen place of birth. Another useful guideline is known as the '4-1-1 rule' - meaning that it's time to get to the maternity ward when contractions are 4
minutes or less apart, lasting for 1
minute each, with this occurring for 1
hour or more.
However, you should make sure beforehand to check the policy of your chosen place of birth with regards to when they would advise you to come in, as different birthing centres can vary.
If you are not yet 37 weeks pregnant but you have been experiencing increasingly regular contractions, either with or without other signs of labour, then it's important to get in touch with your doctor or midwife as soon as possible - your baby may be arriving early.
What happens next?
Now that you are about to give birth, the initial contractions you experienced will have helped to dilate and soften your cervix in preparation for your baby's exit from the womb and into the world. You might feel a hardening of the belly at the beginning of each contraction and they should be falling into regular, rhythmic waves.
As your labour progresses your contractions may last as long as a minute and a half, and may come round every 2 to 3 minutes. They will become more intense and more frequent, and your focus will likely just be on getting through each one. At the easing off of each contraction you'll have a period of relief before the next one begins - use this time to rest and restore your breathing to regular levels.
You should continue to time the intervals and length of your contractions until they begin to ease off altogether as you enter what most women experience as a short period of rest. After this the real task of pushing your baby into the world will begin, and you'll find that the stopwatch is no longer needed as the arrival of your baby begins in earnest.