What Does Cervix Dilation During Labor And Delivery Mean?

Cervix dilation is a clinical term that all pregnant women should familiarize themselves with. How to know what your health care team is talking about when they mention dilation during labor and delivery.

Dilation during the labor and delivery of your baby is the most important function your body can do so you can hold a newborn in your arms.

The first time you may hear the term dilation is in prenatal education or childbirth education classes. You will be taught that the cervix needs to thin out and open up so your baby can be born.

When you health care provider does a vaginal exam near the end of your pregnancy you may hear the term again when they are assessing if you are near to going into labor. However, checking dilation isn't always a sure bet as to when your baby will be born.



A woman could be dilated to 2 centimeters for weeks before she has her baby. Or she could have preterm labor that dilates her to 4 centimeters and then go past her due date before her cervix changes anymore. There are no absolutes in determining when a baby will be born. But knowing what dilation is all about will help you stay knowledgeable about what your providers are talking about.

Prior to pregnancy your cervix is thick and firm and just like it should be during that time. It is also in a posterior position, meaning in the back, so that vaginal exams can be quite uncomfortable since the cervix is hard to reach. Once you become pregnant the cervix starts going through changes in response to the hormones circulating throughout your body. Ultimately this will mean the birth of your baby when your cervix completely opens up.

When you cervix is posterior it is also closed and not opened at all. Once you are nearing the time to have your baby and in labor your uterus will begin contractions which will start thinning the cervix so it isn't so long and thick so that it can open up or dilate.

A fully dilated cervix opens to 10 centimeters and this can vary depending on the size of your practitioner's fingers. A fingertip dilated which is 1 centimeter will have a completely different meaning between someone with a small hand and someone with a larger hand. Regardless of hand size, the dilating that occurs during labor is the same.

As the cervix thins to what is necessary for delivery, 100 percent, the cervix starts dilating and progressing in one centimeter increments. Prior to 5 centimeters a woman is considered in the early stages of labor. From 5 centimeters to 7 centimeters is the beginning of active labor. From 7 centimeters to 10 centimeters a woman is in transition and near to having her baby.

Many practitioners will expect you to dilate to a designated chart which defines their standard of care. So regardless of how well your labor may be going, an impatient practitioner will expect you to dilate one centimeter per hour. There is no way to say that is the only way to effectively have a baby so be wary when you hear mention of how much progress you should be making. It is all relative. Every woman and every birth is totally different and cannot be evaluated according to some chart without risking interventions that are unnecessary.

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