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how long does it take the cervix to dilate 5 centimeters? February 13, 2007

Posted by guinever in : birth, labor, pregnancy , trackback

It takes a long time for the cervix to dilate 5 centimeters. It’s going to be many days or weeks of having Braxton Hicks contractions before labor begins just to get the cervix ready for labor. But if the cervix isn’t “ripe” for labor and your water breaks or your contractions start, then it’s going to take many hours of early labor just to soften and efface the cervix. When I say many hours, it could be 12-24 hours of having light, but persistent contractions just to get to 2-3 centimeters dilated. And then it will be a few more hours to dilate to 4-5 centimeters.

Before the cervix can dilate or open up, it must first soften. This thinning and softening of the cervix is called effacement, which is measured in percentages. Usually, the cervix is long, hard and closed. As a pregnant woman has Braxton Hicks contractions during pregnancy or in labor, the cervix starts this effacement process which ripens the cervix and prepares it for labor. As the cervix continues to soften, it starts to dilate as well.

You may be checked by your doctor or midwife as your due date approaches and found to be 50% effaced and a fingertip dilated. The next week you may be 60% effaced and still a fingertip dilated. The next week, your cervix may be 2 centimeters dilated. The effacing and dilating of the cervix can take many weeks before “real labor” begins. The more contractions you have before labor starts, the shorter your labor will be.

If you slowly dilate during the last weeks of pregnancy, then your cervix will be “ripe” and ready for labor. You may dilate to 5 centimeters after just a few short hours of labor. And if this isn’t your first baby, getting to 5 centimeters could happen very quickly.

However, there is another scenario. If your labor starts and your cervix hasn’t already done a lot of the effacing and dilating that I just described, it will take many hours of light contractions just to get to 2-3 centimeters dilated.

Sometimes, your water may break before contractions begin. You might stay home for about 12 hours having light contractions. During this time, you can follow your normal routine. Eat when you’re hungry, drink when you’re thirsty. You can even relax in the bath after your water breaks if you want to. After 12 hours of these light contractions, your cervix may only be dilated 1 centimeter. It may be another 12 hours or more before the cervix is dilated to 4-5 centimeters and active labor kicks in.

So be prepared for a long, slow early labor if your cervix hasn’t softened during pregnancy. So to answer the question, how long does it take the cervix to dilate to 5 centimeters? A long time.

What does being 2 centimeters dilated mean?

Cervical dilation 101: frequently asked questions

the absurd p’s of childbirth 

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1. Sue - August 14, 2009


Hi Sue, I don’t think it’s a matter of being dilated as it is how low your baby is in your pelvis before you can feel the baby’s head. Do you mean the nurse or doctor feeling the baby’s head during an examination or do you mean you personally feeling the baby’s head? ~blessings, Guinever

2. marilyn - August 28, 2009

Oh this site is so great….Im 35 weeks pregnant I’ve been having BH gradually getting more noticible I wouldnt say hurtful but surely strong, last week I notice on two ocations that I had like a clear gel discharge nothing big just a small amount. Yesterday when I went to use the restroom I notice pink on the paper, this happend two more times and I went to the ER, well the doctor said that my cervix was closed and that there were no sign of blood on my cervix (she did a papsmear kind of test) any who it was blood it coated the toilet bowl. that Im sure off, while in the hospital I felt two strong cramps very low on my stomach. But that was it no more, today baby is very active, some tighting but no more blood, not even after the exam.

Do you think labor is close?

Dear Marilyn, glad you like the site. Labor could be close but it’s just as likely that you could go another 4-5 weeks closer to your due date. It’s totally normal to have cramping and braxton hicks contractions for a whole month.
~blessings, Guinever

3. Sarah - September 10, 2009

Seems like this is the most common question, but being a first-time mommy, I just can’t help myself. I am 38 weeks and 1 day. At my dr. appt 2 days ago, I was 2cm dilated, 100% effaced, and the baby was at a -1 station. Both the doctor and my doula said I am ready to go into labor at any time and probably will not make it to my due date, maybe even to my next appt. I’ve had contractions and have been losing my mucous plug ever since the appt. two days ago. My mom and sister are both out of town until late Sunday night. What are the odds you think I’ll have the baby before then?

4. Monique - November 12, 2009

Can you be 100% effaced and not all the way dilated?

5. T. Kim - November 27, 2009

I am 26 weeks pregnant. with my second child. My cervical length is 0.5(terrible) and I the doctors told me that I am about 3cm dilated also. I had my first child at 31 weeks and went into preterm labor early but I was drugged up on MgSO4, which helped back then. The docs said that they dont like to use that anymore. So far this pregnancy, Ive been given Endosin(if I spelled it right) but I still been having contractions here and there. My question: What are my chances of delivering early or staying pregnant? Can my cervix get any better? HOw soon could my situation get worse?

With your obstetrical history coupled with the fact that you are already 3 cm dilated at only 26 weeks along, there is a good chance that you will go early again. I know you were probably looking for more reassurance than that, but no one really knows when labor will happen until it starts. I have known several woman though, who had preemies the first time along, then went much later in later pregnancies. ~blessings, Guinever

6. guinever - December 5, 2009

Yes, you’re normally 100% effaced long before you’re fully dilated. It could happen before labor starts or not you might become fully effaced when you’re anywhere from 4 centimeters to 7 or 8 centimeers dilated.

7. guinever - December 5, 2009

What are the odds? hahah. how about 50/50. I think you’re just as likely to go into labor before Sunday as you are after Sunday. With that said, if you’re not at peace about going into labor before your mom and sister get back, you probably will wait.

8. Brandynn - December 5, 2009

So I have kind of an odd question. I am 38 weeks pregnant and this is my first pregnancy. I have never had cramps before, my period always just started with no fuss so I am having a hard time telling if I am having braxton hicks contractions or not. At my last appnt I was told that my daughters head was down really low and I was 2 cm dialted. My pelvis has been really sore and from time to time I will get kind of an achy feeling all over my lower abdomen that will turn to a sharp pain when I move or stretch. Is this what Braxton hicks feel like or will it be more like a leg cramp?

9. guinever - December 5, 2009

Brandynn, braxton hicks contractions do not feel like leg cramps. I would say that leg cramps are quite painful and the braxton hicks are not. They can be felt in several different ways–a little pressure, an achy back, feel like indigestion. You could feel them up front near your belly button, or more internally at your cervix or on your back.
What you’re feeling could be braxton hicks.

10. julia - December 9, 2009

im 35 weeks and 4 days at my last visit my doctor said that my cervix is soft. this is my third baby. how long is it until i go in to real labor because i keep having contractions but there not close together as fas as i know i really am bad at keeping track of these things.

Dear Julia, there really is no predicting when you’ll have your baby. You could have these contractions for another several weeks or you might just have your baby in the next couple of days. Only time will tell. ~blessings, Guinever

11. souna - December 9, 2009

i am 38 weeks and 4 days pregnant and i am really hoping my baby comes soon!!!
i can feel him pushing down and when he does i get alot of pressure in my head and i’ve also been having back pain but not much.
i haven’t even started dilating! can anyone help?

Dear Souna, just keep on keeping on! You’re definitely on your way to having that baby. Are you walking regularly? That can help. Having sex can h elp you start dilating too. ~blessings, Guinever

12. Jesco - December 10, 2009

I am 37 weeks pregnant. Baby’s head is down but my ultrasond results reveal that my cervix is closed. I have been having back ache recently, pains from my abdomen radiating to my lower back. Is this a sign that labour is imminent? This is my second baby.

Dear Jesco, It definitely sounds like something is happening. I don’t know if I would say labor is imminent, though. Only time will tell if those “pains” become regular or stronger. ~blessings, Guinever

13. Amber - December 11, 2009

I was just wondering if you could give me any idea of how much longer I have. Last week I went to the doctor and he said that I was 1cm 35% effaced and -3 stage. This week (37 weeks) I am 2cm 70% effaced and -2 stage. I know this sounds awful but I am tired of being Pregnant!! I want this baby to come on!

Dear Amber, I know once you get to your last month of pregnancy, it’s sometimes hard to wait for baby to come. Based on what you’ve said, you could go into labor any day now, but then again, it might not be until after you due date. ~birthing blessings, Guinever

14. lauren - December 14, 2009

i am 38 weeks pregnant and i am due dec 29th and i want to get induced before christmas is it safe to do so or should i wait?and does sex really help when i went to the doc when i was 37 weeks i was 1 cm and 20% effaced does this mean im getting close or what?

Lauren, I encourage you to think twice before inducing for convenience and read this article for further information. Yes, sex is beneficial at the end of pregnancy for helping with preparing the cervix for labor. Being 1 cm and 20% effaced is good–your cervix is started to soften and prepare for labor. ~blessings, Guinever

15. sonya - December 14, 2009

I 38 weeks pregnant and they said im due on the Dec 21 and they have also said Dec 27th. I went to the hospital last night because i was having contractions close together. and they checked me and iwas 3cm dialted. This will be my fourth baby. How long do you think it might be. Because Im afarid that i will not make it in time to the hospital. Because with my last baby i was 8cm when i got to the hospital i was not having any contractions just alot of pressure and my water was not broke at all when i got there. help what should I do to make sure i make it on time to the hospital.

Sonya, it sounds like you’re doing the right thing by going to the hospital when you had the contractions. Some people do end up having an accidental homebirth or car birth because their labor goes so quickly so I can’t make you any promises…One thing you can do is possibly talk to your doctor about breaking your water in the hospital to induce your labor (if the baby is really low and your bags of water are bulging.) I’m not necessarily recommending this but there is a time and a place for everything. This might be the best option for you if you’re scared about getting to the hospital in time. ~blessings, Guinever

16. lauren - December 16, 2009

me and my boyfriend just had intercourse and i wiped and there was blood with little specks in it what should i do or what is it exactly i went to the doc last week and i was 1 cm could i be going into labor or could that have been my mucus plug?

Lauren, it could be part of your mucus plug or it could just be a little spotting as a result of the intercourse. If you’re not feeling any contractions,
(pains or pressure) then you’re not in labor yet. ~blessings, Guinever

17. BKC - January 19, 2010

Im about 34 weeks along. Third pregnancy and history of preterm labor.I have been dilated to 1 and have had a “soft cervix” for a month now. A about a week ago my Doctor said she could feel the babys head during a cervix check. The last few days I have had some weird pressure down there with some menstrual type cramping. Also feel like “bubbles/gas” is coming from the vagina which is all new. Do you think this may mean I’m “opening” up more?

BKC, I’m not sure what the bubbles and gas you’re feeling is. You might want to ask a nurse at your doc’s office about that one. Menstrual cramping and pressure sounds like contractions so you could be opening up more. ~blessings, Guinever

18. Asther Santos - January 20, 2010

hi! good day. I am 36 yrs old. I am G4P3. I am 28 wks pregnant now. I experienced contractions everyday and had a brownish discharge for 2 days. so i went to see my doctor and upon examination she said i am 1cm dilated and my baby is in breech presentation. I am afraid that i will have a preterm delivery. My doctor said i might undergo cesarian section if the dilatation progresses.Pls give me some advices so i will know what to do.thanks.God bless.

Dear Asther, you would probably have a cesarean if your baby remains breech (assuming you’re in the USA) Was anything mentioned about trying to turn the baby? How about steroid shots to help develop the baby’s lungs should the baby be born early? ~blessings, Guinever

19. c:grace - January 21, 2010

hi! i’m 39 weeks pregnant and my due date is on the 26th of january. i just had my weekly prenatal checkup with my OB and found out that my cervix is not yet dilated nor effaced. my OB is considering C-section if i wouldn’t be dilated on the 26th. i am really trying to avid that as i would want to deliver my baby naturally. i’ve been taking evening primerose since the 37th week of my pregnancy. do i have any other options aside from c-section? and should i be worried that i’m drawing near my 40th week and i’m still not dilated? please help…..

Grace, You still have time to dilate. Some women don’t start dilating until labor starts. Please remember that average first pregnancies are over 41 weeks so talking about c-section at this point is a little bit premature IF you and baby are healthy. See if you can wait another week. ~blessings, Guinever

20. lauren - January 26, 2010

i had my daughter about 3 weeks ago and i started having sex 2 weeks after birth but i had to have stitches my bleeding stopped so thats why i started having sex well now im bleeding again and my vagina hurts and it feels like i have to go pee when i dont or i just went pee when i sit down theres a little bit of pee then the pain goes to my stomough what could be wrong??

Lauren, sounds like you need to be checked out by your doctor. It sounds like you might have a urinary tract infection so call your doctor. Resuming intercourse after only 2 weeks postpartum is pretty soon especially if you had stitches. Two weeks isn’t enough time to heal.
~blessings, Guinever

21. Jen - February 18, 2010

Hi there! I am currently 38 weeks. I feel your frustrations ladies with wanting to know when baby is coming. I went to the hospital last Friday becasue I was feeling contractions. They checked me and I was 5 CM dilated and 100% effaced! The contractions were not coming frequently enough or strong enough, so I was sent home! I have been working all week and everyone thinks I am crazy that I am still at work! I just want to see my daughter’s little sweet face! Hope to see her soon!

Jen, thanks for sharing. I think everyone needs a little encouragement during the final days of her pregnancy. Soon, you will have your baby in your arms. ~blessings, Guinever

22. uniquecode - February 18, 2010

Hello! I’m 40w and 1d pregnant and is with still completely closed cervix. My OB mentioned inducement and a possible C-section next week or two because of this and because my baby seemed to be oversized. I was given 5 days of walk to try ripen my cervix so for it open for the inducement to take effect. I wonder if that short time frame would really open my closed cervix that fast? Me and my husband is now getting disappointed and really want a normal vaginal delivery for this first baby of us.

I’m so sorry that you’re facing this. There is absolutely no reason for you to have a c-section at this point IF both you and baby are healthy and doing ok. To answer your question, YES, you can most certainly dilate and go into labor in the next week with no intervention. Think positive labor thoughts. You can birth your baby. ~blessings, Guinever

23. uniquecode - February 19, 2010

My OB dd an ultrasound and told me that the amniotic fluid is still ok and that my placenta is still not mature so we can still wait till next week or two if the labor wont start yet by next week. OB requested me to have BPP and NST and we’ll do it by tom. Hope the result would be good so I wont undergo a c-section which I really dont want.

At least your OB is giving you another week. Most likley, that is enough time for you to go into labor on your own. Are you aware of what you can do at home to encourage labor contractions? ~blessings, Guinever

24. uniquecode - February 19, 2010

For contractions, I think not yet. But I’ve read posts here and learned just a while that to help ripen and open the cervix, I need to eat spicy foods, pineapples, walk, and have sex – which I’m about to do later today.

Good,that should help. Did you catch the article I linked to in my last response? ~G

25. uniquecode - February 19, 2010

Spicy foods are for contractions especially eggplant parmigiana? Can I eat this even I am not yet dilated? Or should I dilate first before eating it? Thanks again!

Eating spicy foods can help start contractions which in turn could potentially start or continue dilation. So yes, you can definitely eat spicy food even though you’re not dilated yet. Not guaranteed, but many women report starting labor after eating spicy food. ~G

26. uniquecode - February 19, 2010

Thanks. We’re at the mall right now and about to order eggplant parmigiana lolz By the way, how dilate should I be for the inducement to surely take effect?

Sounds yummy! Hope you enjoyed your parmigiana. It doesn’t really matter how dilated your are right now. It’s a process that can begin at the onset of labor or it can happen gradually over the final weeks or days of pregnancy. ~blessings, Guinever

27. uniquecode - February 20, 2010

One of the OB I consulted told me that one of the reasons why the baby wont drop is that its too big. Is it true?

I doubt that it is true. Truly rare is the mother baby pair that don’t “fit” each other. Remember the baby’s head can mold to fit your pelvis and that the ligaments in your pelvis soften and your bones can move to allow for passage of the baby.
~blessings, Guinever

28. T. Kim - February 20, 2010

I am 34 weeks and 4 days. I was checked last week and was told by the docs that I am 4.5 c dilated and 100% effaced. I havent been having any regular contractions just some not close together. What are my chances of delivering early? I am so ready to get the baby out because I am in pain and my heartburn is crazy at this point. I always feel sick and drained. Is that normal during the end of pregnancy?

T, I think you may deliver early since you are already dilated so much. Feeling tired and sick is a normal (although it can be annoying) side effect of pregnancy. I’m sorry you’re in so much pain and have heartburn. Have you tried propping up with lots of pillows when you sleep? The heartburn seems a lot worse if you lie down all the way. Also, papaya enzymes can help with heartburn. ~blessings, Guinever

29. uniquecode - February 20, 2010

I cant make love with my husband because I just dont feel doing it with my baby inside. I’m afraid we could hurt him. Ever since I got pregnant we did not do it anymore – we agree on that belief. That’s why we are surprised when we knew that sex can soften the cervix. However, I still cant, when we tried last night. Byt the way, I asked the third OB I consulted yesterday about primrose but she does not believe it will work for me. However, I still took 1 capsule of primrose last night and felt menstrual cramps this morning. Are this contractions???

I can certainly understand your hesitation about having sex while pregnant. That is a common belief but let me assure you that intercourse doesn’t hurt the baby. The baby is protected inside two bags of water=) Does your OB think primrose oil works for some people, but just not you? I would say that most OBs don’t think it works… Menstrual cramps are one way that women feel contractions. ~blessings, Guinever

30. uniquecode - February 21, 2010

hi, im the husband of uniquecode,last night my wife take one capsule of primrose oil, then this morning she feel the cramps with intervals.. she take another primrose oil this morning then the whole day every 2 minute gap, then one minute pain, is this the effect of primrose oil? that she feel extreme contraction now?

It is doubtful that just one capsule of primrose would start labor. However, it sounds like your wife is having contractions. ~blessings, Guinever

31. uniquecode - February 26, 2010

Hello, this is uniquecode again. I took 1 capsule of primrose on the night of 20th and in the morning of 21st.. and contractions started on the 21st lunch time. Finally, I gave birth 6am of the 22nd! =D

Congratulations. Thanks for letting me know that you had your baby. Hope you are doing well.
~many blessings, Guinever

32. ashton - February 28, 2010

hi i am 36 weeks and 2 days. i have been having contractions and i am 1 cm dilatated. me and my husband have had intercorse to help speed the process up. my baby is very big and i have a same frame i am in constant pain and i am ready to have our son. my doc said after i hit 36 weeks he will take my baby but only if i am in labor. do you have any suggestions on how to get the real process going.

Dear Ashton, because you’re only 36 weeks along, you have plenty of time to wait for labor to start on its own. I’m sorry that you’re in constant pain. Do you mean contraction pain or just all over body pain? ~blessings, Guinever

33. Laci - March 3, 2010

Im a little over 32 weeks pregnant with my third child. my doctor put me on bedrest because I was already dilated to a 3 and 80% effaced. If my baby is born soon is there a chance he will not have to go to the neonatal unit? Im just really afraid of something going wrong, and need some type of reassurance. Also, Ive been having pains that feel like strong menstrual cramps in my lower abdomen and back. The doctor checked and I was not contracting. What could this be?

Dear Laci, there’s always a chance your baby could go to the NICU even if he/she’s born full-term. However, of course, full-term babies have a better chance of being born healthy. The lungs will be fully developed at 36 weeks. Before then, steroids can be administered that can help the baby’s lung mature. Have you been given the steroid shots.

What you describe sounds like contractions to me or at at the very least, pressure is being put on the cervix and causing you to dilate. I’m not sure how reassuring I can be, but if the cramping continues, you should definitely get checked out again. How did the doctor determine you were not having contractions? By a contraction monitor? Perhaps you weren’t contracting when the doc checked you…
~blessings, Guinever

34. Annabell - March 12, 2010

how do i know if the evening primrose oil is working? i was currently 3 cm dilated an 40 percent effaced at 37 weeks,i take evening primrose oil gel pills 2 by mouth twice a day an 2 gell pills inserted intra vaginally right befour bedtime. im 41 weeks now an just started them 3 days ago, my induction is in 3 days will i have enough time for my cervix to thin out by then? with the dosage im doing with the evening primrose.
please answer me soon thank you so much!

Annabell, the purpose of evening primrose oil is to soften or efface the cervix and you were already pretty soft 4 weeks ago at 40%. I’m sure that an induction would work for you based on the info you have given me. ~blessings, Guinever