cervical dilation

Need-To-Know Facts About Cervical Dilation And Early Signs Of Labor

When I was pregnant I only wanted the most basic information. I was stressed enough as it was, so a birthing class that delved into all the bloody details was not for me. Instead, I hired a postpartum and baby expert who gave me a crash course. In the end it was all I needed and luckily everything went amazingly well during my birth.

If there’s one thing to know regarding the early signs of labor – even if you’re looking to know as little as possible like I was – it’s about cervical dilation.


What is cervical dilation?

“The cervix is the bottom segment of your uterus and when you’re pregnant it’s firm and tightly closed,” explains Rebekah Mustaleski, certified professional midwife and Motif compression director. “In general, the cervix is about 3cm long. As you move through labor, the cervix softens and opens—this opening process is called dilation. It can help to picture someone putting on a turtleneck, as they pull it down over their head, the turtleneck opens, much like the cervix does during labor.”

It’s one of the earliest signs of labor. Some others include cramping, back ache, irregular or spaced out contractions, loose stools, and bloody mucus show. But Mustaleski notes that some people never experience any of those, so they’re definitely not a “requirement” for labor.

When should women head to the hospital?

Always talk to your provider about when they want you to come in, but usually Mustaleski recommends that if you’re having contractions that are four minutes apart and each contraction is lasting for at least a minute and that has been going on for an hour, it’s a good time to head into the hospital. Also, if your water breaks or if you think your water is leaking, you should go in to be checked out.

“You’ll be considered in active labor once you’re 6 cm dilated or more,” says Mustaleski. “Before you’re sent to a room, they’ll want to make sure you’re actually in labor, so they’ll check your cervix to see how dilated you are. If you aren’t 6 cm yet, they might have you walk around for an hour and then see how you’re progressing.”

Image: Getty

And what about the epidural?

You’ll be able to get an epidural after you’ve been admitted to the hospital and have a room in labor and delivery.

“It usually takes a bit of time because most hospitals will have you meet with someone from anesthesiology first so they can talk you through the process and then they’ll put in the order for the epidural. If you know you want an epidural, make sure you let your nurse know once you have a room.”

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