As you waddle towards the end of your pregnancy marathon, you'll be hearing a lot about dilation. Your provider might even start checking you a few weeks before your due date, just to see how things are cookin'. But what exactly is this mysterious check — what do they do down there, and what does it mean? Here's how your OB can tell that you're dilated, and what you need to know about it.
Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN and Women's Health Expert at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, says the cervix can actually be checked in two different ways. The first way, Ross tells Romper, is a pelvic ultrasound. A pelvic ultrasound can be performed at any stage of pregnancy to measure the length and dilation of the cervix.
The second and more common way your OB might check your cervix is an internal pelvic exam where he or she simply uses their hand. According to Ross, "Zero centimeters means the cervix has not dilated at all and 10 centimeters means the cervix is completely open and the baby is ready to deliver. During a pelvic exam, the cervical softening ("effacement") can be checked as well. The more effaced the cervix is, the more likely the cervix will dilate."
According to an article written by Dr. Robin Elise Weiss for Very Well, a pelvic exam checking for cervical dilation will be the first thing that happens when you arrive at the hospital in labor. Whether you stay in the hospital or go home then depends on how dilated you are, whether your water has broken, and how much pain you're in. Many women either choose or are advised to return home if they are less than 5 centimeters dilated. Unfortunately, there's no way to know how quickly you will dilate; it can even vary widely for an individual woman from pregnancy to pregnancy.
As you near this stage, do the best you can to relax and let your birth unfold the way it will unfold. Obsessing over the passing time and thinking of nothing but the condition of your cervix will only make the wait more agonizing. Instead, use this pre-baby time to catch some extra naps and eat some long delicious meals with your partner. Before you know it, you'll be at a 10, and life will never be the same.