Cervical Dilation From 1-10: Are You Ready for Delivery?

iStock.com/Jacob Wackerhausen

pregnant woman on side
iStock.com/Jacob Wackerhausen

When you're pregnant, a whole new part of the English language opens up. Suddenly you're obsessed with placentas, trimesters, and sussing out whether you should go with a sonogram or an amniocentesis to determine baby's gender. And then you hit the ninth month of your pregnancy, and a new term pops up: cervical dilation.

It refers to the opening of the cervix, the part of the body that separates the uterus from the vagina, and according to Dr. Robert Atlas, an OB/GYN at Mercy Medical Center in Maryland, dilating is part of the body's way of getting ready for delivery.

"As you get closer to term, the body knows to start contracting and opening of the cervix begins," he explains.

Moms have the option of whether or not they allow their practitioner to check whether or not you're dilating -- a process done by putting the hand up the vagina and feeling the cervix to determine whether it has begun to open.

If you allow it, your doctor or midwife will describe a dilated cervix with a series of numbers.

But what do those numbers mean? Dr. Atlas breaks dilation down -- from 0 to 10 centimeters:

O -- Your cervix is closed. This is how it will stay for most of your pregnancy as the cervix separates the uterus from the vaginal opening and protects the baby from infection, Dr. Atlas explains.

1 centimeter dilated -- Start packing that hospital bag, you're on your way to labor land! Doctors measure dilation in centimeters, and 1 centimeter is a "good sign," says Dr. Atlas. It means your body is getting ready for delivery. It doesn't, however, mean that you're going to deliver immediately.

A mom can walk around for weeks at 1 centimeter dilated, Dr. Atlas says, or she can go from 0 centimeters dilated to having a baby in a day. "Every patient is different," he explains. "And if this your first pregnancy, it takes longer to go through the early stages of labor."

Up to 5 centimeters with contractions -- Put contractions and dilation under 5 centimeters together, and you've got what's called "latent labor" or "early labor." That means your uterus is readying for delivery, but again, Dr. Atlas says, when you'll deliver really depends.

He relates the story of one mom who began contracting every 3 minutes when she was just 33 weeks pregnant. She continued like that for weeks before actually giving birth!

The good news is contractions at this stage are typically mild to moderate (think Braxton Hicks), and your body is doing something. Typically your cervix is not only opening but softening and lengthening, making it easier for baby to make the trip from your uterus to your vagina and out into the world.

More from CafeMom: 8 Signs Labor Is Approaching

5 to 6 centimeters -- The doctor will see you now! This is the point when "active labor" begins, and typically your dilation will be much quicker after you hit the 5 to 6 centimeter point. Contractions will also likely pick up and become more painful as the cervix works its way toward full opening.

10 centimeters -- Considered fully open, this is the point when moms are considered "ready to push" by OB/GYNs. You may also hear your practitioner say you're "fully effaced," which means the cervix has also elongated to let baby out into the world.

At the end of the day, dilation numbers are good for Moms to know, but Dr. Atlas warns mothers not to get too caught up on finding out how dilated they are or aren't.

"You may have lots of contracting and not dilate. You may NOT have a lot of contractions and be dilating," he says. "Certainly people can go from closed to delivery in a short amount of time!"

Guide to Cervical Dilation 

Images via iStock.com/Stepan Popov

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