Understanding Cervical Dilation

 

The Cervix (also called the neck of the uterus) is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. In normal circumstances, the cervix is hard and closed, protecting the uterus. But during labour, it opens up miraculously to allow the baby to come out.

Here’s what happens during labour

Before labour, the cervix is firm and pointed toward the vaginal wall. It is closed and guards the uterus – much like a gate. As labour nears, a series of changes happen:

Effacement: The cervix – which is normally long and thick, measuring about 1-2 inches, starts to get shorter and thinner. This process is known as effacement. As the cervix gets more and more effaced, it gets shorter and shorter and “pulled up” into the lower part of the uterus.

Dilation: At the same time, the cervix softens and begins to open up – known as dilation. This widening, allows a smooth passage for the baby’s head and the rest of the body from the uterus into the vaginal canal.

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Here’s what you should know

Effacement is measured in percentage – from 0 percent to 100 percent.
Effacement is an important sign that your body is preparing for labour. If your cervix isn’t favourable, it means you’re still not ready for labour.

Dilation is measured in centimeters. During labour, your cervix will stretch from from 0 cm to a fully dilated 10cm. To deliver a full term baby, your cervix must be dilated to a 10.

  • If the tip of one finger fits, the cervix has dilated by 1 cm dilated.
  • Two finger tips signify 2 cm.
  • The distance the two fingers can stretch wide indicates further dilation.
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How long does it take to dilate from 1 cm to 10 cm?

The rate at which the cervix dilates is influenced by many factors and differs in each woman. So, it very difficult to predict. In some women, this process is a gradual one, taking over a few days or weeks (especially for first-time moms), while in others it could be a rapid one and happen overnight!

Cervical/Vaginal Examination

When the expected date of delivery draws near, your doctor may perform an internal examination by inserting her finger to check how far your cervix has dilated. She is also checking to see if the baby’s “dropped”. Based on these factors, she will make a calculated guess as to when you will deliver.

Since the cervix is a vascular tissue, it’s normal to bleed after a cervical dilation. Cervical exam could also stimulate the uterus to cause minor contractions.

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What happens during cervical dilation?

When the cervix dilates from 0 to 4 centimeters, this phase is known as the latent phase of labour.

During this stage:

  • You may feel mild to moderately strong contractions
  • You may notice a thick, stringy, blood-tinged discharge from your vagina as the cervix begins to open. This is known as a bloody show
  • You may also experience a backache, upset stomach and, possibly, diarrhea
  • Some women report a sensation of warmth in the abdomen as labor begins

What you can do:

  • Take a shower
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Try slow, deep breathing exercises.

When the cervix has dilated 4 to 5 centimeters, a woman is considered to be in active labor, and faster dilation of the cervix happens for each hour of contractions.

The cervix will continue to dilate to 10 centimeters (maximum). You may start to feel more pelvic pressure and may even feel the urge to push as the baby moves lower into the pelvis. If you aren’t fully dilated, it’s important that you resist the urge to push, because in some instances the cervix could tear.

This phase of labor also includes the transition phase, which typically begins when the cervix is 7 or 8 centimeters dilated and continues until 10 centimeters. When your cervix has dilated completely, it is time for the real action to begin – when you can begin to bear down and push out your little miracle.

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