As your due date draws closer, you're going to be on the lookout for signs of labor as if you were a hungry tiger stalking prey. At that point, any little hope you can cling to makes those last weeks bearable. Most people expect the big ones, like your water breaking or those painful contractions you've been dreading for nine months. However, some warnings that labor is coming are a little more subtle. For example, how dilated do you have to be to go into labor? Because each number represents a different phase of the labor process.
When you go in for your final month of visits with your OB-GYN or midwife, they'll start checking your cervix to see how many centimeters dilated you have become. As What To Expect's website explained, dilation is the opening up of the cervix to prepare for childbirth, and is measured in centimeters. As the cervix opens up, the path from the uterus to the birth canal becomes a wide open space for the baby to pass through. According to the American Pregnancy Association, true onset of labor begins when the cervix is 10 centimeters dilated — by that they mean you are ready to start pushing out the baby.
However, before you reach that point, different levels of dilation mean you're progressing in the process. Once your cervix starts to become dilated, you are in the phase known as early labor, according to Baby Center. This is like the hors d'oeuvres portion of the delivery menu; a small nibble before the big event. But it's important to keep in mind that just because you start to dilate, doesn't mean you're going to have the baby soon. As the website Very Well pointed out, some women can be dilated to five centimeters for some time and not go into labor.
Once you get to the ten centimeter mark, it's likely you will have experienced other signs of labor, such as contractions or your water breaking, as Healthline pointed out. This is the point when the party is ready to start since your body is prepared to push out that baby. Making it to this point can go fast for some women and crawl at a snail's pace for others. But the good news is, one you hit that magic number, there's no turning back — you are going into labor and will meet your little sugar bug soon.