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What Is a Contraction Timer?

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  • Written By: Misty Wiser
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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A contraction timer is either a device or a software program designed to record the frequency and duration of labor contractions. Many online and mobile phone applications are available to simplify the data collection process. A stopwatch can double as a contraction timer if using a computer or cell phone is inconvenient during labor. Programs designed to work as a contraction timer record the start and stop time of the contractions, the severity and duration, and the interval in between each contraction for easy information sharing with the obstetrician.

Labor contractions are timed from the start of the contraction to the end of the contraction. The first sign of an impending contraction is often a tight feeling across the belly that moves to the lower belly directly above the pubis bone. Labor sometimes begins with contractions felt in the back, or a cramping stomachache that comes and goes. Irregular contractions that do not increase in frequency and intensity may be Braxton-Hicks contractions and not true labor. These practice contractions may begin as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy and continue up until true labor begins.

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Some contractions are caused by dehydration. Drinking two large glasses of water may cause the contraction pattern to slow down or stop entirely. If true labor has begun, the contractions will continue to increase in intensity even after the extra fluids are drank. Using a contraction timer to record the frequency and severity of the contractions will help the expectant mother decide when it is time to contact the obstetrician or midwife.

True labor will continue even with exercise and bed rest. If the contractions do not go away and the contraction timer records more than five during the space of one hour, it may be time to call the obstetrician or midwife. She will need the information recorded with the contraction timer to determine when to advise the expectant mother to go to the birthing center or to prepare the home for the birth of the baby.

Most obstetricians will recommend going to the birthing center when the contractions are about five minutes apart for at least one hour. If having a home birth, the midwife will likely want to be present at that time. A contraction timer program or website can be a useful tool right up to delivery. In the latter stage of labor, a contraction timer may signal to the mother when to prepare for a contraction to begin and estimate when the contraction is likely to end.

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