As you near the end of your pregnancy you might find yourself wondering 'have my contractions started, or is that just Braxton Hicks – or even wind?' with every twinge you feel in your tummy.
At a glance
- Contractions are caused by your womb tightening and relaxing
- They help to push your baby down into the birth canal
- Time your contractions as soon as they start
And it's no wonder – if it's your first baby, you will have no idea what a contraction feels like. Even if you have given birth before, as you near your due date, you're practically hard-wired to think 'contractions starting!' with even the slightest ache or pain – particularly if you haven't had any other early labour signs like a show or your waters breaking.
What is a contraction and what does one feel like?
Basically, the pain is your womb tightening and relaxing, and is essentially like a very strong version of period pains. Contractions can feel different for every woman, it might be that the pain stays in your lower back area but will often move in a wave like movement towards the abdomen.
As labour progresses, the contractions build up into longer, more regular pains which peak before easing off and then starting again. Each contraction is helping to push your baby out of your womb and down into the birth canal.
How to time your contractions
It's important to start timing your contractions once they get going – when you call the hospital, one of the first things your midwife will ask is how often you are contracting.
Below we’ve listed some handy steps to help make sure you’re timing your contractions correctly:
Make sure you can count the seconds – You’ll want to make sure you’re using a stopwatch or clock that has a seconds hand to enable you to be as accurate as possible. To begin with, your contractions may last for less than a minute, but they will increase in length as you get closer to active labour
Record the timings so you don’t forget – Keeping track of the start time, end time and duration of your contractions will enable you to accurately work out the time elapsed between each contraction
Work out how far apart your contractions are – Subtract the start time of the previous contraction from the start time of your current contraction and you’ll be able to work out how far apart they are. For example if your previous contraction started at 15:45 and your next contraction started at 15:56, you’ll know they are 11 minutes apart. If you’ve noted down the end time too, you can work out how long they’re lasting and if the duration is increasing.
As a rough guide, if they are lasting for more than thirty seconds, are coming regularly (around every five minutes) and feel strong, then you are probably in labour, so make that call!
Why not use our contraction timer on our Baby Diary app to plot your labour?