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4 Signs You’re Dilating, Which Could Mean It’s Almost Baby Time

Any minute now.

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Even if you’ve had the most perfect pregnancy up until now, with nary a hint of heartburn, at some point, you’re probably going to want to just give birth already. But what are some true signs that you’re dilating? If it’s your first time, it’s tough to know what dilation feels or looks like.

First, you’ll need to understand the details of dilation and the circumstances surrounding your cervix. Dilation is the opening of the cervix, per What To Expect, and it can happen anywhere from your ninth month of pregnancy, or even overnight. It’s measured in centimeters, starting at one centimeter (which is about the size of a pea) and going all the way up to 10 centimeters (the size of a grapefruit slice).

The cervix is an important player in pregnancy, particularly when it comes to delivery. According to the study, “The mechanical role of the cervix in pregnancy,” the cervix goes from being closed during your nine months to protect the fetus from infection and allow it to fully develop to subsequently having to shorten, soften, and dilate in preparation for labor. You might hear your OB/GYN use terms like “ripening” or “thinning” in relation to your cervix, which means that it’s getting ready for the big event.

But while you might get super excited thinking that labor has started if your doctor tells you that you’ve begun dilating during an exam, don’t be so quick to head to the hospital. Because if you’ve ever been sent home after only opening up 1cm dilated, then you know that dilation is really a numbers game. “Early dilation doesn't necessarily correlate with anything, though it can indicate that you won't go too far post-date,” Taraneh Shirazian M.D., OB/GYN at NYU and founder of Mommy Matters, tells Romper. You’ll need to be 10 cm dilated in order to start pushing, after all.

Your OB/GYN will probably perform a weekly pelvic exam starting at around 36 weeks of pregnancy, (via The Bump). So aside from getting updates from your doctor about your stage of dilation, you can also check out some of the signs highlighted below that may let you know you're dilating.

1

You May Have Mild Or Irregular Contractions

An “uptick in contractions” can indicate that dilation is happening, Dr. Shirazian explains, since contractions can contribute to dilation. Still, there's no need to be alarmed or assume you're in active labor until you're having consistent contractions that are starting to feel stronger and happening closer together. “Typically contraction frequency, duration, and strength can give us a good picture of how far along we are in labor,” Jada Shapiro, a postpartum doula and founder of boober tells Romper. “People in early labor (less than 6cm) will usually have contractions that are anywhere from 20 minutes or more apart to 6 minutes apart.” She explains that women who are not that dilated yet can typically speak through their contractions, and might be able to engage in other activities, like talking or watching TV. But when your dilation is more advanced, (say, 6-8cm along), then you might have a harder time focusing on anything but the contractions.

2

Your Mucus Plug Dislodges

If you lose your mucus plug, it's a solid sign your cervix is thinning and dilating. But what does it even look like? “It’s a glob of mucus that is filled with brownish discharge and maybe a little blood,” Juliana Parker, RNC-OB, a labor and delivery nurse, tells Romper. “Alarming as it may be to some, it's not even a reason to call your doctor; just be on alert that labor may be starting soon.” It’s different from regular vaginal discharge in not just its color, but it tends to be a little thicker, too. That said, you might pass it while you’re peeing or pooping, so you might not always notice when it comes out. But if it does, dilation is underway.

Losing your mucus plug is not the same as your water breaking, so there's no need to panic. It can happen anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple hours before labor. Because the opening to the cervix is sealed by the mucus plug, according to What To Expect, you could lose your mucus plug as you continue to dilate and your cervix thins.

3

You See The Bloody Show

If you thought that your mucus plug and the bloody show were the same thing, think again. While they are both pivotal in alerting you that your pregnancy is transitioning into labor, they both serve different purposes. Although its name might seem kind of graphic, the bloody show is a surefire sign that labor is well on its way. It’s a discharge of mucus that is often pink or brown, What To Expect reported. Unlike your mucus plug, which works to keep your cervix sealed off, the bloody show signifies that the blood vessels in your cervix are breaking as you dilate. So once you see the bloody show, know that the show is about to start!

4

You Can Feel It With Your Fingers

Let’s say that you just can’t wait for your next OB/GYN appointment to know if you’re dilating. Well, you can do your own cervical self-examif you know what you’re looking for. Before starting, make sure that your hands are scrubbed clean (and you might want to think twice about attempting it at all if you have super long nails). Start by inserting your index and middle fingers into your vagina, Healthline reported. Once you reach the end of your vagina, feel your cervix, specifically noting its texture and thickness. If it’s thick and hard, effacement might not be underway yet. But if it feels thin and mushy, you’re dilating. But you might want to leave the poking and prodding to the experts, advises Shapiro. “Technically, someone in labor could reach in and feel their own cervix, but unless they're trained, they likely won't be able to assess how many centimeters dilated they are,” she says.

Dilation doesn’t have to be a mysterious part of pregnancy. By knowing the signs, you can guesstimate how far along you are — and how soon it will be until you’re at those all-important 10 centimeters of dilation, when you’ll be able to deliver your beautiful and healthy baby.

Study cited:

Myers, K., Feltovich, H., Mazza, E., Vink, J., Bajka, M., Wapner, R., Hall, T., House, M. “The mechanical role of the cervix in pregnancy.” 2015

Experts:

Dr. Taraneh Shirazian M.D., OB/GYN at NYU and founder of Mommy Matters

Juliana Parker, RNC-OB, a labor and delivery nurse

Jada Shapiro, a postpartum doula and founder of boober

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