Towards the end of your pregnancy, when your doctor says that you are 1 or 2cm dilated, what does that mean and what exactly is he referring to?
As you reach your ninth month of pregnancy in your final trimester, your doctor will give you an internal exam to check your cervix for any early signs of labour (e.g. if you’re dilated) and during this check-up she will also see if your baby’s head is engaged.
After confirming whether your cervix has dilated (opened up) and effaced (thinned out) and if it has started to soften and move to the front of the vagina, she might be able to give you an estimate date as to when you can expect to deliver.
But how dilated do you have to be and what does it mean if you are 1cm dilated?
If you touch the tip of your nose, that is pretty similar to how your cervix feels before labour.
Normally it will also be slightly firm and closed, so as to protect your growing baby from the outside world.
But as your body prepares for labour, your cervix will get very soft, start to dilate and also thins out (otherwise known as cervical effacement).
So before your baby can make her grand debut, your cervix must be completely dilated and thinned out.
Not only does your cervix have to be open all the way, but it also needs to thin out completely for your baby to be born.
As your labour progresses, your hard and long cervix will gradually thin out over time.
Cervical effacement is measured in percentage, so when your cervix is 100% effaced, that’s when it is thin enough (paper thin, in fact!) for your bub to easily pass through.
Be patient, because your cervix can be dilated for weeks before you even go into labour
Is it a sign that you’re going into labour?
You might think that being at least 1cm dilated means that you’ll be giving birth some time soon, but this is not usually the case.
Cervix dilation does not indicate when exactly you will go into labour or how fast your labour will be — in fact, you can even be dilated by a few centimetres for a few weeks before going into labour!
However, even if your cervix is still completely closed, you could possibly go into labour the very same day, because every woman’s body is different and each pregnancy is unique.
When your cervix is 10cm dilated, it is the same size as a bagel!
1cm to 10cm dilated
When you go into labour, your cervix will stretch from 0cm to be fully dilated at 10cm.
A vaginal exam will determine your cervix dilation and is measured by how many finger widths can fit into the opening of your cervix.
If the tip of one finger can fit, this means that your cervix is 1cm dilated; if two finger tips can fit, that means it is 2cm.
After which, the distance the two fingers can stretch apart will indicate further cervix dilation.
But what exactly happens at 1cm, all the way up to 10cm?
Your cervix is the size of a single Cheerio and you can have your hospital bag on standby because your body is getting ready to give birth.
By now, your cervix is about the same size as a Ritz cracker — but if this is your first pregnancy, it might take you a little longer to go through the early stages of labour.
Would you believe that your cervix is now around the same diameter as a soda can?
“Active labour” would have started by now, causing your cervix to dilate faster, so your contractions will be stronger, longer, more regular and painful!
Once you are 10cm dilated, your cervix is considered fully open and is the same size as a bagel!
You might even be told to prepare yourself to start pushing as soon as your cervix has completely effaced.
Some women suggest that it helps to visualise your cervix opening up like a flower in bloom
How to get your cervix dilated
Although it’s probably best to just let your body do it’s own thing naturally, there are a few steps you can take to encourage your cervix to dilate a bit faster:
It’s good to stay calm, think positively and visualise your cervix opening up as you repeat the following affirming message to yourself:
“My cervix is opening, like a flower. My pelvis is flexible and open. My muscles are warm, heavy, and totally relaxed.”
By taking a nice warm shower, it will help your tense muscles to relax and can ease tension as your body prepares itself for labour.
You can also choose to soak for a while in a warm bath, but just make sure that someone is there to help you get in and out of the tub.
Ask your partner to give you a gentle massage, as this is another way to help you relax, which is beneficial to the whole process of cervical dilation.
You can sit down or lie on your side in a comfortable position and play some soft music in the background to further add to the relaxing mood.
Since your partner is already giving you massage anyway, you might want to try having sexual intercourse, as the hormones found in semen (prostaglandins) can actually help your cervix to dilate and efface!
After you have an orgasm or stimulate your nipples, your body will release oxytocin, which is another hormone that helps to encourage cervical dilation.
Long, slow strides
Going up and down some stairs by taking long and slow strides can also help with cervix dilation.
By walking wider and slower than normal, this causes your cervix to stretch and eventually dilate.
Empty your bladder
A full bladder could inhibit contractions so there will be less pressure on your cervix, which in turn will result in a slower dilation.
So although it’s good to stay hydrated, remember to urinate regularly to help speed things along!
You don’t have to go to a Zumba class or have an intense workout in an attempt to jiggle your baby out — by walking around as much as you can, your bub will gradually move down into your birth canal, thanks to all your body movement and gravity.
The pressure from your little one’s head pressing down on your cervix may also help with dilation and effacement, which can also trigger contractions that further encourage dilation.
Take it easy
Don’t let the numbers worry you and try not to get too hung up over how dilated you are.
There is a possibility that even if you are having a lot of contractions, you may not even be dilated yet — or although you may not be having that many contractions yet, your cervix could already be dilating!
Just let your body do it’s own thing and try to stay as calm and relaxed as you can to prepare yourself for delivery that’s probably just around the corner.
This article first appeared on The Asian Parent