How Can You Tell You're Dilating? Here Are 7 Signs To Look Out For

Toward the end of your pregnancy it's natural to feel a bit anxious and impatient. Especially if, like me, you're so ready to have your baby and leave that whole pregnancy thing behind you. So if you're sitting there, bloated and uncomfortable, staring at the nearest clock and wondering if there's any way you can tell you're dilating, and without having your doctor or midwife do an exam, please know that you're not alone. In my experience, that third trimester lasts approximately 2,432 months.

Fortunately, for us impatient pregnant people, there are a few signs your cervix is dilating that you can look out for. Mayo Clinic explains that at the end of your pregnancy, your cervix dilates — opens and gets bigger — and effaces — gets softer and thinner — to prepare for childbirth. Because this process is actually caused by labor contractions, you might feel cramping or pain and, as a result, know your body is preparing for childbirth. On the other hand, you might not, as some pregnant people don't notice these early contractions. Other signs that your cervix is dilating, according to What to Expect, are losing your mucus plug or light spotting, although, you might not notice that either.

The only surefire way to tell if your cervix is dilated, and by how much, is to have a medical provider check, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA). That's why your doctor or midwife might ask you if you want to "be checked" or have a cervical exam during your third trimester prenatal appointments. Unfortunately, though, even if you know how dilated you are, it might not mean much. What To Expect explains that while your cervix dilating is one of the first steps toward labor, it doesn't necessarily mean you will give birth anytime soon. So if you're counting down the minutes and at least trying to gauge how much longer you have to wait to meet your little one, here's how to tell your cervix might be dilating and childbirth is just around the corner:

You Have Lightning Crotch

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Some women feel lightning-like pain in their vaginas during late pregnancy. While this condition can be painful and disconcerting, What to Expect explains that it might actually be a good sign. It turns out that some pregnant people can actually feel their cervix changing in response to pressure from their baby's head, hormones, and labor contractions.

You Lose Your Mucous Plug

What to Expect notes that losing your mucous plug, what they describe as "a clear, sticky, gelatinous glob of mucus," is a clear sign your cervix is dilating. However, it might come out in small pieces and not all at once, or you might not notice it at all unless you are anxiously checking your underwear for signs that the end is near.

You Have Cramps

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According to the APA, early labor contractions might feel more like menstrual cramps than the stereotypical labor pains you see (or at least hear) in the movies. They might be a sign your cervix is dilating, they might be Braxton Hicks contractions, or your uterus practicing for labor.

You're Spotting

According to What to Expect, one of the first signs of cervical dilation is "bloody show," or spotting caused by broken capillaries near your cervix. While a little bit of blood on your toilet paper is perfectly normal, Mayo Clinic cautions moms-to-be to call their provider if they have heavier bleeding, as it might be a sign of something serious.

Your Back Hurts

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According to the APA, some women experience those early labor contractions in their lower back instead of their bellies. So, if you have a lower back ache in late pregnancy, you may want to pay attention (and call your doctor if they don't ease up).

You Have A Change In Vaginal Discharge

Most pregnant women can tell you that vaginal discharge changes during pregnancy. When your cervix starts to dilate, according to Mayo Clinic, you're likely to notice even more discharge, which is usually clear or pink in color.

You're Having Contractions

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According to What to Expect, your cervix dilating is one of the first steps of going into labor, but labor might take a while and you can actually be dilated for weeks before going into labor (or, for the less fortunate, not go into labor at all).

For some women, though, going into labor is their first clue that they are dilated. According to the APA, if you are experiencing regular contractions that don't slow down or stop, or your water breaks, it's time to call your provider right away, because you could be in labor for real.

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