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Here's How To Tell If You're Dilating For Real, According To Experts

Because it can be confusing to figure out.

by Lindsay E. Mack
Originally Published: 

Dilation is a regular part of the labor and delivery process, but it isn’t like you get text updates when it starts. So how do you tell if it's happening? OB/GYNS want you to know the ways to tell you’re dilating and gearing up for labor. Monitoring such subtle changes in the body can be tricky, but these doctors are here to help out.

What is dilation, exactly?

During pregnancy, the cervix — which is basically the mouth of the uterus — remains closed, Dr. Mary Jacobson (Dr. J), OB/GYN and Chief Medical Officer at Alpha, tells Romper. “When someone begins dilating in labor, the cervix... becomes fully open to 10 centimeters (around 4 inches) to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal,” says Dr. J. Keeping track of your dilation is often one way to estimate how far you are in labor. “Labor usually progresses along a specific timeline, with the first part of dilation going fairly slowly, which speeds up once you're further dilated,” Dr. Nicole Williams, the head of the Gynecology Institute of Chicago, tells Romper.

Can you feel dilation happening in your body?

So will you feel it when you start to dilate, or is the change actually pretty subtle? Like most things in pregnancy, it depends on the person. For instance, 15 moms described what it felt like to be 7 centimeters dilated for Romper, and each one had a very different experience. Some of the moms described that level of dilation as painful, whereas others said it was fine. It really varies. Because you won’t necessarily feel the process of dilation itself, here are some other signs you’re dilating as shared by OB/GYNs.



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“In normal labor, dilation of the cervix occurs with contractions,” Dr. Cyn, a board certified OB/GYN and national speaker, tells Romper. If you haven’t experienced this particular sensation yet, contractions are a “pain in your back or pelvis similar to menstrual cramps that happen in a regular pattern and get closer together over time,” says Dr. J.

If you’re a few weeks away from the delivery date and experiencing contractions, take note. “For all patients less than 37 weeks, evaluation by your OB provider is imperative if you are contracting more than six times per hour,” says Dr. Cyn. If you’re at 37 weeks or more, however, then keep an eye out for the signs of labor so you have time to prepare. “We would like to avoid a patient delivering at home or in transit,” says Dr. Cyn



Lightening occurs “when your fetus drops lower in the pelvis, your uterus shifts downward, and you may be able to breathe more easily,” says Dr. J. This means the baby is getting ready for go time, basically.



“You will get a mucousy discharge that's very sticky and it may also have a little blood in it (just a little),” says Dr. Williams. This could mean you’ve lost the mucus plug, which is like “a cork in the cervix” as Dr. J puts it.


Rupture Of Membranes

This is more commonly known as your water breaking. A “gush of fluid from your uterus” could mean you’re dilating and gearing up to deliver that baby, Dr. J says. Get ready to follow your birth plan, because these signs you’re dilating very often mean the baby will soon be born

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