Birth Dilatation – All You Need To Know

dilation birth

What is dilation?

During labor, you will often hear about the dilation of the cervix, which is the process of the cervix opening up. As the due date approaches, the cervix must thin and dilate to make way for the baby’s passage. This opening is measured in centimeters, and the cervix is completely closed at 0 centimeters. Once it reaches 10 centimeters (the approximate width of the newborn’s head), the cervix is fully dilated, allowing the mother to start pushing the baby out during delivery

Symptoms of dilation

There are a few important things to note about the dilation process. Firstly, the cervix can begin to dilate several days or even weeks before labor actually starts. Secondly, most women won’t notice any physical symptoms of labor at this point. However, there are a few signs that the cervix is starting to dilate and that an opening is forming. These signs include:

  • The cervix may begin to dilate several days and even weeks before labor actually begins. At this point, most women will notice almost no physical symptoms of labor.
  • Prolapse of the mucous plug: This is thick mucus that blocks the opening of the uterus during pregnancy. When the cervix begins to open, the mucus plug is released and comes out as a discharge.
  • Contractions: You won’t be able to feel the cervix opening, but you will feel the uterine contractions working to stretch it. As the uterus contracts, it pulls the cervix up slowly and steadily, resulting in a wider opening. Exactly how painful these contractions will be is individual for each woman.

How to check the opening of the cervix:

If you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, your OB/GYN will likely start checking for cervical dilation after 36 weeks of gestation, during your regular prenatal appointments. The cervical dilation is measured by estimating the number of centimeters that the cervical opening has dilated from 0 to 10 cm. In addition to cervical dilation, your healthcare provider will also check for effacement or thinning of the cervix, which is measured as a percentage. You will also be examined during the birth itself to monitor the progress of the labor process.

Usually, the measurement is done “by hand” – obstetrician-gynecologists are trained to measure the opening of the cervix with their fingers. During the exam, your OB/GYN will insert two fingers into your vagina and gently feel the cervix to determine its position, consistency, and dilation. These examinations should not be painful, but may be a little uncomfortable. It’s important to communicate with your healthcare provider if you experience any pain or discomfort during the exam.

How possible is it to have dilation without a birth process?

The opening of the cervix is often associated with labor, leading to misconceptions about the birthing process. However, dilation can occur weeks before the due date. For example, if your OB/GYN measures your cervix and finds that you are 1cm dilated at your 38-week check-up, it does not necessarily mean that labor is imminent. In some cases, women can be 3 or 4 centimeters dilated well before labor begins.

On the other hand, some women may not experience any dilation before giving birth, which is also normal. If you are 40 weeks pregnant and still have no dilation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. Your body may still be preparing for labor at a slower pace. It is important to remember that dilation is only one part of the birthing process, and other factors such as contractions, effacement, and station should also be taken into consideration.

How can you support the process of dilation and potentially accelerate labor?

We get it – you can’t wait for everything to be over and to cuddle your little one . But unfortunately, there’s not much you can do on your own to make your cervix dilate faster. However, while there is no surefire way to speed up labor, there are a few steps you can take “to tip the scales”.

Strong contractions are needed to dilate the cervix. The best way to achieve this is by supporting the natural release of oxytocin in your body. Here are a few ways this can be done:


Some studies have found that women who were physically active and participated in light sports activities throughout pregnancy had shorter first and second stages of labor than those who were not similarly active. Light exercise during the early stages of labor can also help.


Although there is still no clear consensus in this regard, some obstetricians and gynecologists may recommend sex as a way to speed up labor, especially if the term has passed. Prostaglandins in semen can potentially aid the process, and the release of oxytocin at orgasm can trigger contractions that cause dilation. Having sex late in pregnancy is generally considered safe. However, for some mothers-to-be with certain risk factors, sex may not be a good idea.

Nipple stimulation

If you’re past your due date, you can help your cervix prepare for labor and trigger your body’s natural release of oxytocin by stimulating your nipples with massage or pumping. However, keep in mind that nipple stimulation can cause particularly intense and prolonged contractions, so – consult your obstetrician-gynecologist.

Causes the cervix not to dilate

If you’re nearing your due date (or already past it), but your cervix isn’t dilated, the simple reality is that your body just isn’t in labor yet. There’s no exact answer to what exactly triggers the body to go into labor or why the cervix doesn’t always dilate fully. It’s possible that your contractions just aren’t strong enough to trigger the process.

If things aren’t happening naturally, your doctor may decide to induce labor. Depending on the situation, this will likely involve physical interventions and the use of medications that can accelerate dilation to varying degrees, including the infusion of oxytocin. If none of these options cause the cervix to fully dilate, a C-section may be necessary at the discretion of the medical team.

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