What happens when your cervix opens up for baby’s birth, plus, learn safe ways to speed up this crucial process!

When it comes to labour and giving birth, one of the top concerns for most, especially first-time, parents is how to tell if you’re in labour?

You may probably may have heard about painful contractions and how these will progressively become higher in both frequency and intensity as your kewpie is actually about to arrive. Yet another equally important aspect of vaginal birth ― cervical dilation ― happens inside your body.

As labour progresses, your cervical wall actually opens or widens in a process called dilation to accommodate your newborn, so that he can travel down the birth canal. However, many mums-to-be may not even know they are fully dilated because they may not feel anything “down there”.

Dr Chong notes on average first time mums will take about an hour per centimetre of dilation, so that works out to be about 10 hours.

SmartParents expert Dr Christopher Chong and ob-gyn Dr Peter Chew lists important facts you need to know about this vital birthing process…

1) Cervical dilation tells you which stage of labour you’re in…

Once you’re on the hospital bed, the nurses will come in to do a routine vaginal exam. This lets them know which stage of labour you’re in. Dr Chew explains “You are in the early labour phase when your cervix is stretched up to 3cm. Active labour begins from 3 to about 7cm and moves into the transition phase when the cervix is fully dilated at 10cm.”

Besides the opening that gradually widens, the consistency of your cervical wall also changes — through a process called effacement — as labour progresses. The walls feel thick and firm to the touch at the beginning of labour and slowly softens, shortens and becomes thinner closer to birth.

2) … but it doesn’t tell you how long you’ll still need to wait

Unfortunately, the time taken for your cervix to expand fully can differ from one person to the next. Dr Chong notes that first-time mums, on average, will take about an hour per centimetre of dilation, so this works out to be about 10 hours.

The cervix of women who have had previous vaginal births separate sooner in subsequent deliveries. Dr Chew explains, “For these women, the cervix dilates faster at about 1.2 to 1.5cm per hour.”



3) Your cervix can dilate without contractions

If you’ve had repeated abortions, previous invasive surgeries of the cervix — like a biopsy — or experienced a traumatic delivery before, your cervix may dilate without any labour contractions. Dr Chew states, “The cervix can even remain dilated for a few days or weeks without going into labour.”

Some expectant mothers may have a weak and loose cervix, which separates easily on their own. Dr Chong cautions that such patients often face the risk of a premature delivery.

Chances are, you won’t even know that you’re dilated unless you’re examined by your gynae in late pregnancy or early labour, notes Dr Chew. That said, you don’t need to rush to the hospital unless you start showing signs of labour, like:

* Producing a bloody show;

* A burst water bag that’s leaking amniotic fluid; or

* Having regular and painful uterine contractions.

4) Your cervix may not even get dilated fully

Dr Chong explains that a narrow pelvis may prevent the cervix from becoming fully dilated — the baby will get stuck at about 5cm to 6cm. This is because your narrow pelvic bones actually prevent your baby’s head from descending properly into the birth canal as the bony structures may block it. If so, your doctor may actually advise you to get a C-section.

Dr Chong explains that a narrow pelvis may prevent the cervix from becoming fully dilated — the baby will get stuck at about 5cm to 6cm.

5) You can speed up dilation safely

Dr Chong notes that your baby’s head needs to descend and rub on to the cervix to stimulate it to release hormones, which will accelerate the thinning and opening process. Here are simple steps you can take to speed everything up:

* Take a walk The combination of your body’s movement and gravity will increase the pressure of your baby’s head on the cervix.

* Stimulate your nipples Sometimes, simply rubbing your nipples will speed up the labour process. This is because it also speeds up the release of oxytocin, which can increase contractions, Dr Chong explains.

* Use an exercise ball Another option is to sit on a gym ball with your legs spread apart. Then gently rock and use gravity to bring your baby’s head down to your cervix to encourage dilation.

Dr Chong adds that medication that can help to speed up the labour process is another option. Hormones like prostaglandin can be applied to the cervix to make it contract and soften. Oxytocin, supplied through your IV drip, can speed up contractions, too.

6) You shouldn’t examine your own cervix

While you may have seen guides on how to check if your cervix is properly dilated, don’t as it carries a risk of infection, especially if you haven’t washed your hands with soap and water. Dr Chew adds, “Whether the mother can assess the dilation accurately is another issue.” So, it’s best to leave the pros to do this!

Photos: iStock

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