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Natural Homebirth Tips, Birth Partners, Childbirth Education
Whether you are having a home birth or traveling to a birth center or hospital, one of the things we always address in the Natural Birth Compass program, especially for birth partners, is demystifying how to time contractions, because it's not that difficult to do, but in the moment, it can become overwhelming and stressful for both partners.
When you start having regular contractions of labor and it's time to check in with your birth team, your midwife or labor nurse will want to know some information about the frequency and intensity of your contractions to evaluate how far in labor you might be. The frequency we will address in this article, the intensity they will gather from how you sound on the phone and information from your birth partner, so it can be helpful to know how to time them accurately so you feel confident when you talk to your birth team.
For students in our program, we talk about how to time contractions using both the typical linear model as well as our unique cyclic model based on the compass because the cycle provides then a unique insight and method to constantly be prepared for where labor is going, where the linear model keeps you focused on the specific moment in time. This is the difference between Western and Eastern thought patterns.
When timing contractions, there are a few measurements that you will be gathering:
On a linear timeline, you can think of contractions as a wave, going from quiet and still, then escalating upward into the peak of the contraction and easing off again to become still before the next contraction starts the next wave.
As for the various measurements I outlined above, how far apart the contractions are is the length of time from the start of one contraction to the start of the next contraction, so from the point where one wave starts to the point where the next wave start, labeled as A in the chart.
How long the contractions last is the point from when the wave starts to rise to when the wave reaches the still point again, from A to B.
How long the pattern has lasted is simply keeping track of how long the contractions have been consistently going at the pace you are measuring. When you have measured the timing of your contractions for at least an hour and seen a consistent or increasing contraction pattern, it might be time to clear your calendar for the day.
There are a few different general timing "rules" as for when to call the midwife or head to the birth facility, though we prefer to consider guidelines. These range from 5-1-1 rule to 3-1-1 rule, where the first number indicates how far apart the contractions are in minutes, i.e. 5 minutes apart, 4 minutes apart or 3 minutes apart, the second number indicates that contractions are lasting at least 1 minute and you have been in this pattern for at least 1 hour.
Whether you make the call at 5 minutes, 4 minutes or 3 minutes is dependent upon various factors that you should discuss with your care team, for instance, how far away is your birth team or birth facility, do you have any special circumstances that require you to arrive at the hospital earlier in labor, in which case you would probably go around 5 minutes apart. Or if you prefer to arrive closer to being ready to push, you might wait until 3 minutes.
Reaching this frequency of contractions does not automatically mean you will progress to birth, as labor can still stop for a time, but you are more likely in full active labor if you are getting these numbers.
A New Pattern
As I mentioned earlier, in the Natural Birth Compass program, we teach expectant parents to look at contractions as a cycle rather than a line so that they can constantly be prepared for the next step and next thing to do. When we look at labor and contractions as a line, it is more difficult to anticipate what is going to happen next, but with a cycle, it is predictable, it continues over and over and everything lines up so you know what is coming next and your partner knows how to offer the right kind of support for each stage of the cycle.
Once they learn the cycle and how the contraction fits the cycle, we do practice rounds using sounds and video so they can do some practice drills that help them prepare by using their senses, because a laboring woman may not be able to communicate what she is feeling during a contraction, so it will be up to her birth partner to read the signs and listen for cues as to when the contraction starts and ends.
Parents love this drill and have fun practicing, and moms report that understanding their contractions as a cycle during labor really helps them keep focused on what to do during a contraction and how to prepare for the next one without have to engage the thinking part of their brain, because the cycle becomes so intuitive and second nature.
Learn more about cycles in birth with the free guide Three Sacred Cycles You Need to Know for a More Confident and Intuitive Birth, grab your copy by clicking here!
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