The finish line is in sight! Find out what really happens as your cervix prepares to deliver your mini-me…


Cervical dilation. These are the two words that’ll inspire a nervous sweat to trickle down your back, especially if you’re a first-time mum-to-be attempting a vaginal birth. It’s also responsible for causing all your labour pains — thanks to the contractions you’ll experience.

While it may leave you in immense pain, your cervical dilation is a positive sign that your labour is progressing. After all, your cervix will need to dilate — meaning expand — to allow your newborn to move down the birth canal and out into the world.

SmartParents expert ob-gyn Dr Christopher Chong notes that cases of a dilated cervix without any signs of labour isn’t unheard of, either. “When there’s a problem of cervical incompetence — where the cervix is loose and opens by itself — these patients often experience premature labour.” The good news is that your gynae would be able to see signs of this happening and would have advised you in advance.

“Doctors and mid-wives will know how to do the examinations, patients will not be able to [do a self-examination].”

Besides dilating, your cervix will also go through the gradual process of effacement. This refers to the softening, thinning and shortening of your cervix as it opens up. Your gynae and nurse may choose to use the term “ripening” or “thinning” to refer it, too.

You’ve probably come across websites guiding you on how to do a self-examination to determine your dilation, Dr Chong discourages you from doing so. “Doctors and mid-wives will know how to do the examinations, patients will not be able to [do a self-examination].”

While the pace at which your cervix dilates is anyone’s guess, it can tell your doctors a great deal about which stage of labour you’re in. Here’s our guide to what to expect…

Infographic: Syahirah Maszaid

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Better known as the “waiting game” stage of your labour, the contractions you feel will be mild, lasting about 30 to 45 seconds and likely occur every five to 30 minutes. For some, these contractions can feel like a dull aching sensation in your lower-back or somewhat similar menstrual cramps. You still have some time so try your best to relax and practise the breathing techniques to help you cope with the pain. If you want to, you can also take a quick bath because you may not get to or want to do so after you’re done delivering bubba.

There’s also a chance for your water bag or amniotic sac to break during this time. If it does, you should take note of:

* The time when it happened – your doc will ask you to tell him when this happens.
* The colour of the fluid – It should be clear and feels warm. If it’s bloody or brown in colour, you’ll need to get to the hospital immediately because it could be a sign of foetal distress.


Generally once your water bag is broken, it’s time to head to the delivery room with your hospital bag in tow. Your contractions should feel more intense, last longer between 45 and 60 seconds and occurring more frequently — once every three to five minutes. Getting your spouse to massage your abdomen or lower back can help ease some of that pain.


Time to take deep breaths as this is it! Your contractions are at its most intense now, lasting anywhere between a minute and 90 seconds. There’s the possibility of feeling sweaty or experiencing chills and cramps in the legs — just remember it’s totally normal.


This is the moment that the past nine months of doctor’s visits, prenatal classes and being extra careful with what you eat and do has led up to. Once your cervix reaches 10cm in dilation, you enter the delivery phase, where all that’s left to do is pushing the baby out. If it’s your second or subsequent babies, it won’t take long for your mini-me to come out wailing.


You did it! Give yourself a pat on the back and high-five your spouse because you deserve it. There’s just one last bit before you’re wheeled out of the delivery room. Your placenta will be the last organ to leave your body during this stage of labour. And it is crucial that it is expelled by your body — a retained placenta is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem.

You’ll experience small contractions that’ll signal your placenta is separating from the uterine wall and is ready to be delivered. Your doctor may even resort to massaging your uterus or even tug on the umbilical cord to deliver your placenta. After it flows out from “down there” and you’re properly stitched up, you’ll be brought to the ward to recuperate.

Main photo: iStock

Illustrations by Syahirah Maszaid

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