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Cervix Dilation

Cervix dilation is also known as dilatation, it is a gradual process where the mouth of the cervix widens from 0-10 centimeters (4 inches in width) during the course of labor. When the cervix is dilating or opening it is considered to be a sign that labor is on the way.

Cervix Dilation is the width of the opening of the cervix as baby makes its descent head down.

  • The cervix is a thick-walled canal about 2 cm thick and tightly closed. Though hormones will soften and thin it, first-stage contractions are required to dilate and thin the cervix.
  • Contractions will widen the diameter of the cervix. Labor is popularly divided into 2 phases: active and latent with the transition phase in between. During the latent phase dilation reaches about 3-4 cm; the cervix widens to about 7 cm in the active phase with most of the hard work i.e. intense labor during the transition phase where full dilation is achieved. Repeat contractions stretch the cervix to a full 10 cm.
  • Doctors often gauge the labor progress by the dilatation of the cervix. Vaginal exams to measure how far you are dilated by feeling the opening of your cervix are commonplace during labor.
  • Dilation is measured in centimeters. There are 2½ cm to an inch. Often fingers are also used to estimate the rate of dilation although its accuracy is debatable since finger sizes differ in individuals. For example, when dilation is said to be 3-4 cm, it is equivalent to two-three fingers; when a woman is fully dilated she is said to have entered the 2nd stage of labor with her cervix having reached 10 cm (equal to five fingers).
  • Dilatation in first time mothers can take hours or even days to reach the 3-4 cm (1-2 inches) of the latent phase. It can only take place once the cervix has softened. Dilation process moves slowly initially during the first stage and picks up momentum with the aid of intense contractions during the transition stage once you approach the 10 cm mark.
  • Pain intensifies when the cervix is fully dilated and it then unifies with the body of the uterus to become one continuous pathway through which the baby passes through.
  • First time mothers have longer labors because effacement and dilation are two separate processes; effacement precedes dilation. In subsequent deliveries dilation and effacement occur concurrently, shortening the labor process.


Dilation in a Gist
Size in cm Size in terms of food
3 cm Wide as a banana slice
7 cm Wide as a lid of a coke can
10 cm Wide as a bagel

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