Am I Dilating? Wait, what is it?

Do you often wonder what cervical dilation is? Or when it happens and how it happens?  If this is you then you’ve come to the right place.

Before pregnancy, I’ve always heard other Moms talk about dilating this, dilating that, dilating 2 centimeters, and so forth. What I don’t hear them talking about is the process of dilating and how it starts.

If you’re the first-time Mom, learning and educating yourself on this topic is pretty important. For one thing, you will hear the word, “dilate”, for the most part of the end of your pregnancy. And for another, you will first-hand experience the process of dilation.

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So, what is cervical dilation?

Cervical dilation occurs towards the end of pregnancy when your body prepares you for childbirth. It’s when your cervix begins to thin and open its passageway for baby to come out. The cervix acts like the bottom of a funnel, which is sealed by the mucus plug.

Here’s a simple illustration!

The first funnel shows your baby sealed by the mucus plug, with the cervix closed and blocking the baby’s passage. At this stage, your cervix has not dilated yet and your little one is not ready to evict the womb!

The second funnel shows your cervix slightly opened, which means that you have dilated and your body is preparing for childbirth. The mucus plug may continue to stay intact until the moment you give birth or it may fall out a few weeks, days, or hours before birth. At this stage, let’s hope baby doesn’t take too long to arrive! 🙂

The cervix appears slightly thick, enclosing your precious bundle inside the uterus (or the baby’s house as I like to call it). Once you near the end of pregnancy and begin to dilate, the cervix will thin out and eventually allow your baby to pass through!

Your cervix thins out when you start having contractions. Each time you have a contraction, the uterine muscle shortens and the cervix thins out – which is why you will have numerous contractions throughout labor that will feel like waves of pain. Contractions are 10x more painful than menstrual cramps!

What are the dilation sizes?

Dilation sizes vary from 1 centimeters to 10 centimeters – with 10 centimeters being the max. When you’re at 10 centimeters, your baby is fully ready to evict the womb and that’s when you’re asked to push! Don’t worry – this process sounds complicated but it’s easier to do when you have a Labor Nurse to guide you.

See below for an illustration of the dilation of the cervix.

Cervix dilation infographic

Image Source

The size of a bagel sounds intimidating right? I thought the same too!

But when you’re on the “pushing” end and not the “receiving” end, you won’t see a thing and just need focus on doing your thing – that is to push, push, and push! You’ve got this, Ma!

How do you check how much you’ve dilated and how do you know if you’re dilating?

To check how much you’ve dilated, you can measure the size by using the tips of your fingers.

  • One finger = 1 cm
  • Two fingers = 2 cm
  • Three fingers = 3 cm
  • and so forth…

If you’re seeing a Doctor, your Doctor will set up weekly appointments in the last month of pregnancy and regularly check how much you’ve dilated. These appointments are always exciting to look forward to but one thing most Moms don’t tell you is how it feels like to be checked.

A Glance at My Experience

As I dived into the last month of pregnancy, I recall looking forward to my FIRST Doctor appointment where we were going to start checking how much I’ve dilated. I was pumped and ready for some good results. More importantly, I was just excited to know that baby was going to arrive and I was one step closer to seeing her.

On the day of my Doctor appointment, I was called into the patient’s room and was instructed to undress and wear a gown. Of course, privacy was a necessity so I undressed privately in the room. I waited…and waited…and waited until the Doctor came in (it was really a 10 minute wait but I felt like it was much longer due to my excitement).

The moment my Doctor arrived and checked me, I felt like I lost a whole span of breath in one second. Almost like a big…”OOMPH!”

The first thing that came to mind? WTH.

I had several emotions running through me and I quickly identified 5 things:

  1. It was uncomfortable.
  2. It hurts like hell!
  3. It most certainly felt like someone was “digging” inside me.
  4. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
  5. My excitement disappeared…quick!

Not only did I end up finding these appointments unpleasant, I also found that I no longer (and WILL no longer) look forward to them. But on the bright side? I was purely happy I was dilating….that means baby was arriving soon!

Oh, and one more thing.

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