Everyone knows the holy grail of labor is reaching that double digit — that 10 that means you're rounding third base and getting ready to wave bye-bye to the pain and say hello to your little bundle of joy. But how long does it take to dilate from 0 to 10 centimeters? Of course, no two birthing experiences are exactly the same, but is there a general time frame that a woman can expect between her first contraction and readiness to push?
The Mayo Clinic wrote that there are three stages of a woman's labor. The first stage is dilation up to 10 centimeters, the second stage is pushing out the baby after full dilation, and the third stage is delivering the placenta. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? And it is — your entire dilation from 0 to 10 takes place under the first stage — but keep in mind that stage actually has three sub-stages under it: early labor, active labor, and transition. And the length of the stage can vary widely.
As Dallas OB-GYN Sheila Chhutani explains to Romper in an interview, early labor is 0 to 4 centimeters and is often the longest. Although some women dilate a few centimeters days before feeling any true contractions, many experience somewhat painful contractions and slow cervical change. Women may be comfortable or in real discomfort during this stage; both experiences are normal. In this stage it may take hours to dilate a single centimeter. (I know. This is very reassuring.)
A chart from Healthline shows exactly why dilation can take a while — your cervix is literally changing from the size of a blueberry to the size of a bagel. It's quite the feat.
In the active stage two, Chhutani says, a laboring woman begins to experience more regular painful contractions with the cervix changing about 1 centimeter per hour in first-time moms, and about 1.5 per hour in subsequent deliveries. "These are averages," Chhutani is quick to point out. "There are those who will take longer or go faster whether they have had a baby before or not."
Stage three is the transition stage, usually from 7 to 10 centimeters, and can be the quickest, but not always. Some women whiz by to full dilation in an hour or even less, but others may have to work much longer.
Even if you've had a vaginal delivery before, there's never any real way to predict how long your next one will be. You may even be in active labor for quite some time before realizing it. The Mayo Clinic noted that during stage one, early labor can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Since active labor officially starts once you hit 6 centimeters, the time can vary on how long it takes you to get to a full 10. All you can do is prepare yourself through birth classes and books, make a plan you want to stick to, and frankly, hope for the best. However long or short it takes the good news, it's always worth it.
Sheila Chhutani, OB-GYN
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