Every woman has heard that giving birth is like pushing a watermelon out of a hole the size of a lemon. But even that very tangible description doesn't totally encompass all of the trauma that a woman will go through when she delivers her baby.
The truth is that there are a number of crazy sensations that the body goes through during labor. That's because the cervix has to stretch wide enough to let the baby get through before the pushing can even begin. The opening starts out entirely closed, yet it has to get to 10 centimeters before the birth. Ten centimeters may not seem like a lot, but considering 1 centimeter is the size of a coffee bean, getting to wiffle ball size means a lot of stretching, burning, twisting and turning.
Going from zero to four can range from a tightening feeling to bottoming out. The next three centimeters is where the uterus starts to go through the wringer, but those last three centimeters can feel like the flu mixed with food poisoning, appendicitis and an out-of-body experience all at the same time.
We don't want to scare moms-to-be, but maybe by knowing what could happen they will be prepared to go through the delivery — or at least they will know they aren't the only ones to go to hell and back.
Here are 15 things it feels like to dilate from zero to ten.
15 Bowling Ball Bottoming Out
Even before labor begins, pregnant women have a lot to complain about when it comes to how their body feels. In those last few days or weeks, everything hurts. While the cervix may be at zero, it still feels like torture. For one, it feels like a bowling ball is sitting on mom's pelvis, and that can't be good.
This symptom can come at any time for a pregnant woman, but it's most likely to come just before the baby's birth. The baby seems to drop into position for birth, and that means that the head is right over the cervix and putting pressure on the pelvis. This can happen a few days or a couple of weeks before the birth, which can make walking around pretty miserable. Since walking is a great way to get labor going, it's definitely part of the torture that women feel when the dilate from zero to ten.
14 Back Breaker
At the end of pregnancy, one of the most common complaints a woman has is back ache. That's because of the strain that it takes to lug around a big belly that throws off a mom's usual center of gravity. Back problems can start early, but as the belly grows, so does the ache. By the end, some women complain that their back hurts constantly. It turns out, though, that they could actually be going through labor.
If the baby is facing in the other direction, women experience back labor. Sometimes it's just in the beginning and then the baby flips around. Back labor isn't exactly like contractions because, well, you can't feel them in the belly. So many women don't recognize that this is a sign that they are starting to dilate. That's especially true if their back has been hurting for months. But when a woman is starting her labor, she could feel like her back is breaking.
13 Braxton Hicks Hiccups
Sometimes, before the action begins, women start to get a feeling about what contractions are going to be like. Their bodies get quite uncomfortable, and the belly starts to tremor, even though the cervix is still at a zero. Whether things are tightening or twisting or jumbling all up, for most women this is the first taste of how childbirth could go. Some even rush to the hospital in a panic, worried that the baby could come out in the car.
Many women are embarrassed to learn that their contractions aren't true labor but only Braxton Hicks contractions. They can happen for women who are dehydrated, especially during hot days, or for anyone whose body is preparing to have a baby. Braxton Hicks could mean that the labor is coming in the next several weeks, but so far the cervix is still at a zero, and it'll stay that way until true labor begins.
12 Tightening Tipoff
There are lots of signs of early labor, but many of them are just the same as that of late pregnancy, back ache and all. The tipoff could be in the tightening. At the beginning, it may be barely noticeable. The tummy will start to clench up just slightly at first, as the uterus begins to contract and the cervix begins to thin and dilate.
In the earliest stage of labor, the tightening could come and go at odd times. It could come hours apart or sporadically, ranging from 10 minutes to two hours. Sometimes a woman won't even notice the tightening until she goes to the doctor and finds out that her cervix is already effaced and a couple of centimeters have opened up. The tightening will start to get more regular and more intense as the labor continues. For some, though, the first stage can last days before the active stage of labor begins.
11 Pain. Period.
There are lots of women who describe their labor pain as similar to their period. That may be true — kind of — if you get an epidural at four centimeters or so. A menstrual cycle is similar to labor in that the uterus is expelling something. But during your period, it's just some discharge that is going to take days to get out and may fill up a juice glass in total. When you are in labor, an entire 7-pound (or so) baby is making his way through the birth canal. So yes, the uterus is doing the same contraction, but things will get much more intense.
In the beginning, a woman could feel a little like she is getting menstrual cramps, but as she dilates from zero to ten, it's just pain, period. In the first phase of labor, known as early labor, many women can walk around, work, take naps and do other activities, just like they can when they are on their periods. But things get more intense in the later stages, and they will look fondly back on those memories.
10 Tummy Twister
Another description that comes up often when women describe labor is a tummy twister. Of course, they don't mean the tummy because it is actually the uterus that is going through the crazy action. After the feeling of a period gets more intense, it can feel like the uterus is actually getting turned around. This usually starts sometime around the four centimeter mark when the contractions are regular and hyping up.
For women who are in the active labor stage, the focus of the labor is definitely on the belly, and it gets more intense by the hour. Sometimes a woman can imagine her baby is stuck in a giant egg that keeps getting turned around. The twisting and turning is more than anyone can take for long. But as the cervix slowly dilates to 10 centimeters, the crazy truth is things are only going to get worse.
9 Breaking Waves
As a woman's cervix dilates, the contractions can get very intense, but the good part of labor is that there are breaks in between the worst parts of the job. Contractions usually start out lasting less than a minute, and they can come an hour or two apart. Later though, they will start to last longer and get closer together.
Many women describe the sensations of labor as coming in waves. There is a rhythm to it, and when the waves break, things can be pretty terrible. But after that there is a gentle lull, which can give a woman a chance to catch her breath and prepare for the next wave to come. Some women visualize waves while their bodies are going through contractions, and anyone who has ever been to the beach knows that can really help to relax. But as the cervix dilates closer to a 10, she will begin to feel like it's high tide and soon the waves will crash down on her.
8 Hip Squeeze
Most people understand that the belly area will hurt during labor, and many are aware of the back issues that could come along with it. But few realize the full body issues that can happen when the cervix is dilating from zero to ten. We've mentioned the way that the baby can sit on the pelvis, but it can go into a full on hip squeeze for some moms.
As the contractions continue on throughout the labor, they tend to move lower, and that is when some women feel like their hips are being pulled apart. While the cervix opening up doesn't directly have anything to do with the hips, they are certainly part of the area that is involved in the entire operation. The hips can really hurt while the baby is making her way into the birth canal.
7 Painful Stretch
At this point in the labor, the cervix is opening up more quickly, and the contractions are terribly painful. In the United States, more than half of laboring women have an epidural, usually during the active labor stage. But for those who do not, toward the end of active labor, they will start to feel the cervix as it stretches open.
The vagina can start to burn, or some women describe it like a balloon getting blown open until it feels like it's going to burst right inside them. The stretching of the cervix is nothing like feeling a calf stretch. It's unforgettable and unexplainable — and at this point, there are still a few more centimeters left to go. Sorry mama, you're almost there! You can do it!
6 Major Movement
One of the worst rumors about childbirth is that many women end up pooping on the delivery table. It sounds gross, but it's true. And it's undeniable that many women think that it could happen before the pushing phase begins.
We've mentioned before that there can be lots of pain as the baby moves into position to go through the birth canal. But it's not just pain — there's also a lot of pressure. And just think about what pressure feels like on your pelvis. For many women, it feels like they need to go to the bathroom. They feel like they need to have the biggest bowel movement of their life. That's why we hear so many stories about women who don't know that they are pregnant giving birth on the toilet. They think that they need to poop but it turns out that the baby is doing a handstand on the cervix and stretching it those last few centimeters.
5 Breaking Bad
No woman knows when her water will break. For some women, it happens before the contractions begin. And for others, it never breaks and their babies are born within their amniotic sacs. Most of the time, it happens sometime after labor begins but before the birth. And sometimes the doctor has to pop it just like a balloon.
Whenever it happens, women will learn that the sac wasn't just there to protect the baby; it also was protecting the mom from the worst sensations during the labor. Once the water breaks, contractions increase in intensity. For some women, that means that the pain goes up to an 11 on the 10 point scale. At that point, she will understand what breaking bad is all about. The water breaking signals the body to get the baby out, and the cervix starts dilating much more quickly — and more painfully — at this point in the labor and delivery.
4 Fever Pitch
When the cervix dilates the first few centimeters, some women don't even notice the signs that labor is under way. In active labor, when the contractions are regular and the cervix is stretching from about four to seven centimeters, things get more intense and the belly can be in a twist. But those last few centimeters — a stage called transition — make all of that anguish seem like a cake walk in comparison.
When the contractions are coming right on top of each other, the pain may be the least of the mom's worries. Everything goes up to a fever pitch, and the mom feels nauseous, hot and sweaty. It's like the flu but with the worst stomach cramps ever and anxiety that can make a woman worry if she will make it through childbirth to meet her baby. Luckily, the transition stage doesn't last long because, if it did, no one would want to have a baby ever again.
3 Out-Of-Body Experience
When things are craziest during labor, some women can't imagine, much less feel, it happening to them. Their body is going through waves of pain and pressure, and their mind is panicking and filled with anxious energy. That's the point where some women step outside of themselves and seem to have an out-of-body experience.
There is a kind of survival instinct that can make any traumatic event feel like it is happening to someone else. There have been many moms who feel like this happens when their labor is at its peak. The sensation can allow a woman to detach herself from the reality of the moment and maybe give her a long enough break to get back to business soon. That'll need to happen when a woman dilates to 10 because she has work to do to in order to get her little one out.
2 Ring Of Fire
After hours of painful contractions and terrible pressure, many women can't wait to hear that they have reached 10 centimeters dilation. But once they reach that milestone, that's when they face one of the worst pains of all — the ring of fire.
The ring in this description is the cervix, and it's been stretched to its limit. The blood has rushed down there, and the entire thing feels like it's burning. It's an intense image, but those words may pale in comparison to the reality. Like the lunar eclipse that we just experienced, the burning may be on the edges, but on the other side of the dark circle is another flaming, intense experience, that you can only imagine after it happens to you. After dilating from zero to ten, most moms just want the entire thing to be over. But the ring of fire warns us that there is more to come.
1 Push And Tear
OK, now that a woman has reached 10 centimeters, she has to get down to business. Her body will be in anguish, and she will feel exhausted. Yet there is something in her hormones that will drive her forward. Her body will feel a natural instinct to push.
Some women wonder if their body will know what to do, but for the most part, it always happens. The baby starts making its way, and the uterus is pushing as best it can, so a woman will naturally follow that lead and activate her kegels to get the baby through the birth canal.
On the one hand, pushing can actually provide some relief from the crazy pain going on in the rest of the body. It's like putting pressure on the forehead during a headache. But for more than half of women, the skin down below will split to make more room for the baby to come out. The tearing may not be that noticeable in the moment, with all the other stuff happening, but believe us, she will feel it later.
Finally, the baby will be delivered, and all the pain will be over. Well, there are the post-delivery pains, the stitches and the swelling, but none of those compare to the way a woman feels during transition. With her baby in her arms, a new mom will know that it was all worth it.
Sources: Parents, Baby Center