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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 impatient pregnant people, there are a few signs your cervix is dilating that you can look out for. Dilation is the process of the cervix opening and getting softer and thinner so the baby can come out. OB/GYN Dr. Jessica Shepherd tells Romper that although we don’t necessarily feel our cervix dilating, there are some tell-tale signs that this is, in fact, happening.

Of course, the only surefire way to tell if your cervix is dilated, and by how much, is to have a medical provider check. 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:

1. You Have Lightning Crotch

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 as labor could be near. Dr. Shepherd tells Romper that these sharp pains can be felt in the vagina and sometimes in the rectum because the nerves are so close.

2. You Lose Your Mucus Plug

What to Expect notes that losing your mucus 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 close.

3. You Have Cramps

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Early labor feels different for everybody, but if you're starting to feel a lot like you used to before your period arrived, things could be happening.

"It's always difficult to describe what labor contractions feel like," Paul du Treil, M.D., director of maternal and child health at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, told Parents. "It starts out like menstrual cramps — and the crampy sensation progressively gets worse and worse." That menstrual cramp phase can last for days, though, so don't get too excited.

4. You're Spotting

“The cervix has glands and those glands can secrete fluids and secretions and mucus,” says Dr. Shepherd. "Throughout the pregnancy that mucus component remains thick. But when the body is ready to go into labor, that mucus protective barrier becomes a thinner consistency.” While a little bit of blood on your toilet paper is perfectly normal, Dr. Shepherd cautions moms-to-be to call their provider if they have heavier bleeding, as it might be a sign of something serious.

5. Your Back Hurts

An aching lower back could indicate that your body is getting ready. "It may come in waves and may travel to the front of your abdomen," according to The Marshfield Clinic. "This ache is not relieved by changing your position. It may come and go, or seem different from the normal backache you have felt at other times during your pregnancy."

6. 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.

7. You're Having Contractions

As What to Expect explained, 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).

This is the big red flag that the gates are opening and baby is on its way. “There's a change in the position and the softening of the cervical tissue and that is what is important, because there's this rearrangement and realignment that involves the smooth muscle cells and also the mechanical forces through contractions that cause the cervix to dilate,” says Dr. Shepherd.

While no one can tell you exactly what any of this will feel like for you, rest assured that your body will figure out exactly how to do it... whether you can tell it's happening or not.


Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB/GYN, women's health expert and founder of Her Viewpoint

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