How to Time Contractions

Updated June 13, 2017

True labour, false labour, what's the difference? True labour pains, or contractions, can often be identified because they come in consistent intervals often growing in intensity and in frequency. When you change position they are not likely to stop and they are often felt around the entire abdomen and back, not just in the front. Once you think that you may be having real contractions, how can you time your contractions so that when you call the doctor you can accurately answer the inevitable question, "How far apart are they?"

When you believe that you are experiencing true contractions, get a watch. A stopwatch will work best, but a watch with a seconds hand can be used as well.

Determine how often you are getting contractions. Contractions are properly timed from the beginning of one contraction, to the beginning of the next contraction. Note the time when the first contraction starts and the time when the next contraction starts. The difference between the two times is how far apart your contractions are.

Determine how long your contractions last. The time between the start and finish of each contraction is the length or the duration of the contractions.

Time a few contractions to test for consistency. You want to be sure that they are coming at regular or increasing intervals before your rush to the hospital. Call your obstetrical care provider if you believe you are having real contractions.


If you time the beginning of one contraction, the end of that same contraction and the start of the next contraction you will have all the times you need to calculate how far apart your contractions are and how often your contractions are lasting. Do this a few times to determine your pattern.


Call your doctor or midwife if you think you are having real contractions and may be in labour.

Things You'll Need

  • A stopwatch or watch with a seconds hand.
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About the Author

Jennifer Cutler is a licensed educator in Virginia and has experience in both private and public schools. She has a Masters degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University and a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with concentrations in early childhood, teaching English as a second language and anthropology.