When your cervix begins to dilate, it means your body is starting to prepare itself to deliver your baby. In most cases, this doesn’t happen until you are full term (37+ weeks) but in rare cases, this might happen sooner. If you are not yet full term and are getting contractions or your waters have broken, you need to seek immediate medical help. So when do doctors start checking for dilation?
While some doctors like to begin checking for dilation from around 37 or 38 weeks pregnant, some doctors don’t check at all until you are in labor. If you are concerned, you can ask your doctor to check you out however being checked for dilation can be uncomfortable or even painful, with many women experiencing some spotting or an increase in discharge for a day or two afterwards. Checking too often also increases the risk of infection, which is why some doctors prefer to leave it alone until labor has already started. It could be argued that knowing how dilated you are pre-labor isn’t worth the trouble it can sometimes cause.
Significance of Dilation during Pregnancy
Dilation happens when your cervix opens and expands to allow the baby to pass through. Obviously, if you have a planned caesarian section, you will likely be brought in before you start to dilate, but for a vaginal delivery, your cervix needs to fully dilate before you can begin to push your baby out.
While dilation does give an idea on the progression of your pregnancy, it is in no way an indicator that labor is imminent. Some women might find out that they are 3cm or 4cm dilated and expect to give birth within days, only to find that nothing happens for several weeks. It’s important at this point to try to stay patient and listen to your body, it will let you know when it is ready to give birth. And although sometimes it may feel like it, you won’t be pregnant forever. So try to enjoy the last few weeks.
While your gynecologist will most likely be unable to calculate precisely when your labor will start, he will need to monitor what is going on with your cervix. Pre-dilation, the cervix is thick, shut and firm. It is a defensive entryway that keeps your child cozy and secure inside the womb. A few days or even weeks before labor really starts, your cervix will start to open.
How does the doctor check your cervix during pregnancy?
Your doctor will insert a finger inside your vagina to feel if you are dilated or not. This can cause some pain or discomfort. A few women have reported that this can also bring on labor, however, they are likely confusing it with a membrane sweep. A membrane sweep is when your midwife or doctor inserts a finger inside your cervix and makes a sweeping motion, separating your amniotic sac from your cervix, releasing a hormone called prostaglandins which can help bring on labor.
- Complete dilation is 10 cm
- Dilation measure can vary depending on the size of fingers of the examiner
- As the cervix opens, it additionally thins out. This is called effacement and is typically expressed as a percentage. E.g. 50% effaced”.
- While the cervix must be widened to 10cm before delivery, it needs to be 100 percent effaced too.
- Typically, the most painful period of dilation happens during the “transmission period”, which happens as you expand from 7-10 centimeters.
- Once a cervix is completely expanded and effaced, your cervix is said to be “ripe”.
It’s normal to become impatient as your due date nears. Not to mention the fact that you might be getting quite uncomfortable carrying around all that extra weight. You might be suffering from joint aches and pains, and no doubt you’ll be looking forward to being able to sleep on your stomach again after the baby comes. But pregnancy is such a special time, and in the grand scheme of things, it only lasts for a short amount of time, too. (I know, it does feel like forever, especially towards the end.) But as mentioned above, checking for dilation isn’t always worth the pains that can accompany it. The only way to know for sure when you are going to go in to labor, is if you have a planned caesarian section. Otherwise, your body will go when it feels the time is right. So in these last few weeks, put your feet up, binge watch some Netflix shows and sleep in while you still can.