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cervical dilation 101: frequently asked questions March 11, 2007

Posted by guinever in : birth, birth stories, doula, health, labor, pregnancy , comments closed

What is the cervix? The cervix is the bottom part or neck of the uterus. The cervix opens during labor so the baby may pass through the womb into the birth canal and be born.

What is effacement? Effacement is the thinning and softening of the cervix which is measured in percentages. Usually the cervix is long, hard, and closed, and at this point the effacement would be at 0%. Towards the end of pregnancy, Braxton Hicks contractions occur (sometimes you aren’t aware that you’re having contractions) which start this effacement process. Once the cervix starts to efface, then it can start to dilate too. As effacement continues, the cervix softens, becomes mushy, and then slippery. When fully effaced at 100%, the cervix has virtually disappeared against the baby’s head.

What is dilation? Dilation is the opening up of the cervix and is measured in centimeters. A fingertip dilated means about 1 centimeter dilated. Full dilation is 10 centimeters. Once full dilation occurs, the cervix is completely gone and over the baby’s head, and the mother may push the baby out to be born.

What causes the cervix to change? The uterus is a muscle that contracts or tightens. During a contraction, the baby’s head (or other presenting part), pushes down on your cervix, causing it to dilate and efface.

Why does backward dilation sometimes happen and is it normal? First of all, yes it’s normal and is not something to be worried about. Backwards dilation can occur if the baby’s head isn’t pressing as hard on your cervix as it once was. If your labor slows down and you’re not having any contractions, the cervix can close up a little. Don’t worry, once contractions pick up, you’ll soon be dilating again. A change in dilation can occur when someone new is checking your cervix. One nurse’s five cm dilated, 85% effaced may be another nurse’s six cm dilated, 80% effaced.

Feel free to ask a question and then check back later for an answer, but please don’t ask me when I think you are going to have your baby. You will find additional clarification of when your labor may start by reading  What does being 2 centimeters dilated mean?

How long does it take the cervix to dilate 5 centimeters?
For more articles about pregnancy and birth, please refer to my welcome page.

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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 , comments closed

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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what does being 2 centimeters dilated mean? January 22, 2007

Posted by guinever in : babies, birth, labor, pregnancy , comments closed


So you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy and your doctor or midwife “checks you” and you find out that you’re 2 centimeters dilated. What does it mean? When will you have your baby?

Well, your labor could start today, tomorrow or not for another month. Cervical dilation is not a good indication of when exactly you will have your baby.

You can be 36, 37, or 38 weeks pregnant, 2 centimeters dilated and not have your baby for several weeks. Or you can be 2 centimeters dilated and be in very early labor or pre-labor having a couple contractions an hour and maybe have a baby within the next couple days. Or you can be 2 centimeters dilated and be having very long, hard contractions that are close together. In this last scenario, you will have your baby very soon. You can actually be in late labor or in transition, but your cervix hasn’t caught up yet and is showing early labor.

I’ve heard a few women say that they got the epidural, but it didn’t take effect until after the baby was born. The contractions were overwhelming and they just couldn’t handle labor anymore especially when they got checked and their cervix was found to only be 2, 3, or 4 centimeters dilated. They ordered the epidural and as they waited for the anesthesiologist to show up, they had the baby.

So remember, you can’t predict when your baby will be born based on the dilation of your cervix. Dilation doesn’t happen in a standard, uniform way.

Feel free to ask a question and then check back later for an answer, but please don’t ask me when I think you are going to have your baby or if your doctor will induce you because I don’t know. (these questions could be deleted and will not be answered)

You will find additional clarification of when your labor may start by reading  cervical dilation 101:frequently asked questions and How long does it take the cervix to dilate 5 centimeters?
For more articles about pregnancy and birth, please refer to my welcome page.
If you enjoy reading birth stories, you might like
diary of a primipara
my second birth: a lot quicker than my first
the labor that kept on stopping
born in our living room

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