One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Monday, November 1, 2010

How many contractions are there?

There are only so many contractions in labor.  Would you like to do the math for first-time moms?  Great, because I would!

Early labor is widely variable, and can last anywhere between a few hours and a couple days.  Does this sound like a long time?  In early labor, contractions come and go with no particular pattern, and are generally not painful.  Sometimes labor can start and stop, allowing you to rest and sleep.  Women are encouraged to eat, rest, and do distracting things like watch movies, play cards, and go on short, mellow hikes.  The time between contractions can be anywhere between five and 20 minutes, and contractions last under a minute.  Let us assume, without loss of generality, an average of four contractions an hour and an average duration of early labor of 24 hours.

1st stage, early labor contractions: 4 contractions per hour × 24 hours = 96 mild contractions

Active labor, the second phase of the first stage of labor, has an average duration of 12 hours.  Contractions are more intense, and women often must summon their concentration through each contraction. Distraction is no longer an option, and women should be supported at all times by thoughtful caregivers.  At the onset of active labor, a woman's contractions are five minutes apart (60/5 = 12 contractions per hour), and by the end, they are around three minutes apart (60/3 = 20 contractions per hour).  The average of these is four minutes apart (60/4 = 15 contractions per hour).

1st stage, active labor contractions: 15 contractions per hour × 12 hours = 180 contractions

The final phase of the first stage of labor is transition.  This phase can last minutes or a few hours, but we can assume one hour (the longer end of average).  Contractions are up to two and a half minutes apart (60/2.5 = 24 contractions per hour).

1st stage, transition contractions: 24 contractions per hour × 1 hour = 24 intense contractions

The second stage of labor, or pushing, lasts between 10 minutes and three hours.  After three hours, the doctors start getting antsy to intervene (though some will let you continue pushing if progress is being made and the baby is not showing signs of distress).  Pushing contractions are different in frequency and quality from first-stage labor contractions, and many women find them easier to tolerate because, rather than working against them to relax, they work together with their bodies.  Let us assume an hour of pushing, with contractions every five minutes (60/5 = 12 contractions per hour).

2st stage contractions: 12 contractions per hour × 1 hour = 12 contractions

The third stage of labor, during which the placenta is delivered, lasts about 10 minutes.  Irregular, infrequent contractions can continue for hours or days.  Women tend to forget about the third stage of labor because baby's out, and these contractions are very mild compared to even active labor contractions.  But for the sake of completeness, we will factor these in.  Let us assume 10 minutes of contractions, five minutes apart.

3rd stage contractions:  10 minutes / 5 minutes apart = 2 contractions

The total average number of contractions throughout a first-time labor, then, is 96 + 180 + 24 + 12 + 2 = 314 contractions.  Think you can do that?  After every contraction passes, issue it a "good-bye" or cleansing breath, and tick down your counter.  That is one contraction that is never coming back, and you will never experience again.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this! Leave it to a fellow computer scientist (I'm a software developer) to break this down in a clear, factual manner. It's been shockingly difficult to find such a clear summary of the range of contractions expected in each stage of labor!


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