How To Tell If You're Dilated (And Ready To Give Birth)

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How To Tell If You're Dilated (And Ready To Give Birth)
Self, Health And Wellness

Cervical dilation sounds pretty intense, but if you are in labor, it's going to happen. The question is, how do you know if you're dilated and ready to deliver your baby?

The cervix is a magical structure, able to stay thick and strong, and then practically melt away, allowing the passage of the baby from the uterus, through the vaginal canal, and out into the world. But to do that, it has to open up first.

“In labor, a woman cannot tell how dilated she is, unless she dons gloves and starts checking her cervix, so as to see when to head to the hospital,” says Felice Gersh, M.D., OB/GYN, and author of PCOS SOS. But if a woman doesn't quite have the resources to check herself, are there other methods to see if cervix dilation is occurring?

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Yes. And the cervix can be checked in different ways to see if it’s dilated.

1. Pain

“The terrible pain of labor is connected with the dilation of the cervix. Once a woman is fully dilated to 10 centimeters, the terrible cramping is replaced with severe pressure and the overwhelming sensation to push,” Dr. Gersh says. So when you start feeling contractions, that's just one of the signs you're ready to deliver.

2. Internal exam

A doctor can perform an internal exam and figure out pretty quickly how far along the process is. Zero centimeters means the cervix has not dilated at all, and 10 centimeters means the cervix is completely open and the baby is ready to deliver.

According to Dr. Sherry Ross, author of She-ology, “An internal pelvic exam uses two fingers by the doctor, nurse or midwife to check and feel how many centimeters the cervix is opened or dilated.”

3. Pelvic exam

What is a pelvic exam? It's the examination of internal and external female pelvic organs, performed in gynecology. The exam is usually uncomfortable, but is just another way to see if dilation is happening.

As Dr. Ross says, “During a pelvic exam, the cervical softening or effacement can be checked as well. The more effaced the cervix is, the more likely the cervix will dilate.” And that's good news if you're in labor!

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4. Ultrasound

While ultrasound is used during pregnancy, it can also be necessary when seeing whether or not you're ready to push. “A pelvic ultrasound can also be used to measure the length and dilation of the cervix during any stage of pregnancy,” Dr. Ross says.

But aside from these methods, there can also be complications.

Though women who have given birth before may have an easier time, women who are having children for the first time typically must endure great quantities of pain to get to that point.

According to Dr. Gersh, “Especially in women who have had previous babies, the cervix can silently dilate to as much as 5 centimeters.”

What's even more fascinating is that your cervix can dilate when you aren't even in labor. For instance, other than in labor, a cervix can dilate if a uterine fibroid is working its way out the cervical opening. This is called the cervical os. “It’s as though the uterus is trying to expel the fibroid in a manner similar to that of expelling a baby! If this happens, it can actually feel like labor!” warns Dr. Gersh.

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her at alywalansky@gmail.com.