When you’re pregnant it can be scary to think an entire human baby needs to come out of your comparatively small vagina, but thankfully Mother Nature has designed our bodies to adapt to this tricky task at just the right moment. It’s called cervical dilation and here’s everything you need to know about it.
The cervix preparation show
Our cervix is the opening to our womb located between the uterus and vagina, and normally it’s tightly closed via thick cervical mucus which prevents harmful bacteria and other substances from entering and causing infection. You will have encountered this mucus before and during ovulation or at other times in your cycle, and it appears as an egg-white like discharge. When pregnant, the mucus at the base of your uterus becomes even thicker to create a seal which is called an operculum, or cervical plug.
As you reach the end of your pregnancy, your baby engages in your pelvis and drops closer to the cervix in preparation for the upcoming labour. This is when your cervix changes and begins to soften, shorten and become thinner in a process called effacement or ripening. At this point some of your mucus plug might also break away in what is known as ‘the show’ – usually identified as a pink/red/brown vaginal discharge due to blood vessels coming away with the normal mucus. Many women don’t notice this though (or it happens later in labour), so don’t worry if you don’t.
The dilation process
In order to deliver a baby vaginally, our cervix needs to open up – a lot. The process is called cervical dilation, and only when your cervix widens to around 10cm can your baby’s head safely travel through into your vagina and then out into the world.
Tracking the dilation progress via a vaginal examination is how midwives and doctors determine how far along you are in labour. Placing two fingers inside your vagina and working out how many widths fit into your cervix will then determine how dilated you are, and therefore how close to delivery.
All dilated and ready to go!
Aren’t our bodies amazing?!