D is for Dilation

Dilation is when the cervix opens to allow your baby to be delivered.  This occurs when the uterus contracts, putting pressure on the cervix, which causes it to open more and more.  Some women begin to dilate before labor begins while others only dilate during labor.  You may begin to dilate even before you have any noticeable contractions.  Dilation is one of many components necessary for the birth of your baby to occur.  These components are dilation, effacement, consistency, position, and your baby’s station – together these comprise your bishop score and determine how ready your body is to deliver your baby.

Determining dilation is subjective and may vary.  To measure dilation your doctor or nurse will perform a cervical check by inserting two fingers into your vagina and feeling your cervix with their finger tips.  Because dilation is a measurement estimated with fingers it can vary if a different nurse or doctor checks you.  Depending on the resistance your cervix provides to their fingers you may be a firm number of centimeters dilated, or they may say you are a stretchy “6cm” which simply means you are a little looser than 6cm, but not quite 7cm.

Dilation begins with your cervix closed, or 0cm, and when you are completely dilated your cervix will be open 10cm, or the size of a bagel!  As dilation progresses capillaries in your cervix will rupture which is the cause of the bloody show, or blood tinged discharge, you may have heard of.  As you begin to dilate you may also notice some mucus discharge, which is likely your mucus plug dislodging. 

The cervix will dilate completely during three phases of the first stage of labor. 


Early Labor

During early labor your cervix may begin to dilate to about 3cm.  How dilated you are before active labor does not indicate whether or not your labor will be a quick one.  The best way to get through early labor is to stay occupied and distract yourself from the contractions you may be feeling.  Early labor can last hours or can span days.  If you begin noticing labor in the evening it is best to try and get some sleep.

1cm - Cheerio


2cm - Grape


3cm - Banana Slice


Active Labor

In active labor your cervix will dilate from 4cm to approximately 7cm, or the size of a tomato.  This is usually a good time to head to the hospital.  If contractions are intense try to focus on slow deep breaths and relaxing.


4cm - Oreo


5cm - Mini Babybel


6cm - Cookie


7cm - Can of Soda



During transition your cervix will finish dilating from 8cm to 10cm, or the size of a bagel, which is fully dilated.  Transition is usually the most difficult phase and can include shakes, nausea, and chills.  You may also begin to get the urge to push.

8cm - Apple


9cm - Donut


10cm - Bagel


Once you are fully dilated, 10cm, you have reached the end of the first stage of labor and it is time for the second stage of labor, or the pushing stage – which is the actual delivery of your baby.

How dilated were you when you went into labor?

Next week I will be blogging on the letter E… E is for Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM).