7 Things You Need to Know About Dilation

It doesn’t matter if it’s 2, 4 or 7 centimeters. If you’re fast approaching your baby’s birthday and those figures sounds like a math equation, there are a few things you need to know about dilation. While some mothers could actually care less about dilation, others prefer tracking their progress while they’re on their final homestretch. 

Dilation is quite simply the term used to describe the number of centimeters a woman’s cervix opens up when she goes into labor. It’s measured on a scale of 0 to 10. Zero, which means no dilation at all and ten cm which means the cervix has dilated fully.

Although your nurse practitioner will perform a physical examination in the last few weeks of the final trimester to determine how you’re faring, you won’t know how soon you’re going to dilate until you enter the active phase of childbirth.

7  What Do the Magical Numbers Mean?

Contractions help dilate the cervix and push the baby down the birth canal. Clinically, 4 centimeters of dilation indicates that a woman has entered the active stage of childbirth. Some women dilate very quickly, particularly if it’s their 2nd or 3rd pregnancy. Others take longer and require a drug which works like a uterine stimulant to speed up contractions. 

Women who’ve dilated 4 cm often don’t experience as much discomfort as the final stage of delivery and are still able to hold a conversation in between contractions.

As the cervix opens up, the contractions get stronger, last longer and form a pattern you’ll be able to predict by just looking at your watch. So do these numbers mean much? Can you tell how long you’re going to be in labor by just looking at how much you’ve dilated? And can you control cervical dilation in any way? Let’s find out.

The relationship between your cervix and your contractions are very important

Although the measures for cervical dilation help determine how far along you’ve reached in the many phases of labor, they won’t indicate how long labor is going to last. For instance, you could be dilated 3 cm for a month before actively entering childbirth and still have a 24 hour labor or you could be not dilated at all and still give birth after 5 hours. 

6  How Do You Know How Much You’ve Dilated?

Nurse Practitioners perform a physical examination of the cervix to find out how much a woman has dilated during childbirth. However, women can also perform self exams to find out how the dilation is progressing. Each finger that passes through the cervix counts as one centimeter of dilation. 

Women who have just started mild contractions can use this easy method to find out how much they’ve dilated: Sit on the toilet seat with one foot resting on the floor and the other foot resting on the seat. Insert the index and middle finger through the vagina in the direction of the anus. 

Only your doctor can tell yo how much you've dilated

If you’re one centimeter dilated, you’ll be able to push one finger through the cervix very easily. At this stage the cervix will feel soft and stretched out. As time goes by the cervix will open wider and start thinning considerably.

By the time the cervix has dilated 7cm the contractions become more profound and the woman will be prepared for childbirth after the mother’s and baby’s health is taken into consideration.

5 Can You Do Anything to Dilate the Cervix?

Although dilation is left up to the body, there are a few things women can do to prepare the cervix for labor. While these tips don’t dilate the cervix in any way, they do help in preparing the cervix for delivery. Firstly if your pregnancy has progressed well with no underlying problems, it can be helpful to have sex with your partner as semen contains chemical compounds that can trigger uterine contractions. 

Some researchers have also identified a link between the consumption of dates (fruit) and an increase in cervical dilation. The result shows us that women who consumed dates regularly during the last few weeks of their pregnancy had greater mean cervical dilation than those who had not consumed any dates.

Are these just old wives tales, or are the true?

Apart from these two tips, women can benefit from talking a short walk even if it’s only to the toilet and back. Urinating will reduce pressure on the bladder and it will also give the baby more room to descend into the birth canal. One important thing you can do to speed up the birthing process is to calm yourself down so that your body releases the right hormones like oxytocin to boost your contractions. 

It’s a lot harder to keep your cool during painful contractions but if it’s getting too much to handle, speak to your medical practitioner about getting a pain relief medication administered to you. Communicating with your mid wife about what you’re feeling and asking questions about your progress will also put your mind at ease. 

4  Is a Physical Exam the Only Way to Find out How Much You’ve Dilated?

The physical exam is one way to check how far you’ve gone and it does have a few risks attached-the risk of getting an infection or obtaining a false reading. You could ask your midwife to avoid performing a physical check unless it’s absolutely essential. Other tell tale signs like your emotional state of mind, the color of the line that runs along your bottom and your physical state will indicate how close to the end you actually are.

Mothers who have dilated 7cm are less likely to want to hold a conversation or make any comments when they go through a contraction. They will be less interested in anything going on in the room they’re in and will prefer to be in a quiet space in preparation for the birth of the child. They will also experience more pain from contractions, particularly if they have not chosen to take an epidural or other form of pain relief medication. 

The discomfort and disinterest experienced will certainly give the practitioner an idea of how much the cervix has dilated during delivery.

The depression in between the cheeks of the bottom carries a telltale sign. This line that runs from the anus to the natal cleft will appear purple in color as the stages of labor progress. The more dilated the cervix, the higher the purple line goes. This purple line manifests when there’s a great amount of pressure within the pelvis.

Lastly, a woman’s physical appearance at the time of delivery has a lot to say about how much she’s dilated. Women who are very close to the pushing stage will appear fatigued and may start trembling given the physical exhaustion they’ve undergone. Some women feel very ill, may vomit or say that they’re feeling like they have an upset stomach. There will be no interest in food at this stage. 

If these symptoms are seen together, the midwife will be assured that the mother will start pushing out the baby shortly.

3  You’re Not Sure How Much You’ve Dilated. Should You Rush to the Hospital?

If this is your first pregnancy and you’re really nervous about the birthing process, it’s best to call your practitioner to establish your next course of action. If you have been through childbirth in the past, your dilation may not take as long, so it’s better to be prepared to go to the hospital after having a discussion with your midwife. 

As you advance, your contractions will come in quicker and will last at least a minute. If you’re in terrible pain or feel extremely unwell, don’t wait. Get help and go to the hospital just to play it safe.

2  Evening Primrose Oil- To Use or Not to Use?

For a long time the health benefits of evening primrose oil far outweighed the risks that were discovered much later. An article written by Paula Senner addresses this particular topic in detail and demonstrates the pros and cons of using Evening Primrose Oil. 

This plant extract contains gamma linolenic acid that assists the body in producing prostaglandins- a compound that helps stimulate contractions of the uterus. However, the oil is known to cause nausea and is best avoided by pregnant women. Newer studies show us that prolonged intake of evening primrose oil can cause inflammation and sicknesses like thrombosis.

There are several other non invasive methods used to ripen the cervix during the last few weeks of pregnancy. These include homeopathic medications, the ingestion of castor oil, even nipple stimulation. Various herbal medications that contain red raspberry leaves and black haw can aid in ripening the cervix. However, there is very little research carried out to warn you of the risks of taking such herbal preparations.

How much can the oil help you anyway?

In some instances it’s just best to wait for the cervix to ripen and efface naturally. An increasing number of women seek complimentary or alternative treatments to assist them during childbirth as they believe these remedies are associated with fewer side effects. Unfortunately though, some of these therapies are not well researched. 

So if you’re thinking of using any herbal remedies during your pregnancy make sure you run them by your midwife or doctor before you ingest them.

1  Cervical Suture Removal Before Delivery- What Does it Entail?

If you had a cervical suture procedure done to help your baby stay inside the uterus you will have to remove the suture by the 36th or 37th week depending on how the baby is doing. If you’re going to get a C-section done, you don’t have to remove the suture before undergoing the operation. 

You can leave it in place if you intend to have another baby or ask the doctor to have it removed once the C-section has been done. If you’re going in for labor earlier than expected, the doctor will have the suture removed ahead of time.

Although cervical sutures help 85 percent of the time, they can cause cervical dystocia or late dilation in very few women. Those who have had a cervical cerclage once will have to undergo the procedure again for future pregnancies. Since this procedure ensures the safety of the unborn fetus it’s absolutely essential for women with a weak cervix. The only other alternative to cervical cerclage in some instances is bed rest.

You'll want to talk to your doctor about your sutures and when they come out

Cervical dilation does present itself as a wait and watch phenomenon. If you do however keep these few things in mind, you’ll be better prepared to face the birthing process boldly. It’s always helpful to discuss pain relief measures with your doctor before you come too close to your due date. 

This will help you make an educated choice when the time comes. Although the words ‘pain’ and ‘contractions’ don’t sound very encouraging, you’ll be happy to know that your little blessing will soon console you, wipe away your tears and completely steal your heart away!

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