Cervical Dilation During Pregnancy

Cervical dilation during pregnancy is generally regarded as the beginning of labor, although it may not always be the case. The cervix is the entrance of the uterus, and the opening of the cervix during childbirth is known as cervical dilation. While it usually occurs naturally, in some cases, doctors may need to induce dilation.

What is cervical dilation during pregnancy?

There are several changes that take place in your body during the course of pregnancy and some of these adjustments take place in the cervical area.

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During pregnancy, your cervix (the entrance to the uterus) remains closed and is sealed by a thick mucus plug, so that bacteria do not enter your uterus. As your body prepares for childbirth, the cervix opens to let the baby pass through the birthing canal. Cervical dilation or the loosening of the mucus plug allows the baby to enter the vagina. This plug could either come out as one piece, or it may appear in the form of a thick vaginal discharge of mucus. If the mucus is tinged with pink or red, you may notice the “bloody show”, indicating that you are in labor. At the same time, you are also likely to feel some dilation pain, which is quite similar to the pain you experience during your menstrual flow, just a lot more intense. In case you are having a normal delivery, your doctor will keep checking your cervix to see how much you have dilated. This helps them gauge if your baby is ready for birth or not. Cervical dilation is usually a natural process, but in case your cervix does not dilate as much as it should your doctor may need to induce dilation. According to the pregnancy dilation chart, your cervix should dilate to around 10 centimeters for a normal delivery. Your health care provider may also maintain a pregnancy effacement chart, to keep a track of how much your cervix has thinned out in preparation for labor.

A pregnancy effacement chart refers to a grading system, which can help your health care provider determine how much effacement has occurred and how much your cervix has opened. The cervix effaces from 0% where there is no thinning at all, to 100%, which means that your cervix is completely thinned out.

There are some women who have a firm and closed cervix throughout, right till the end of the pregnancy. There are others who have a dilated cervix that is wide enough to admit a finger, though the cervix may remain thick. Though rare, at times your cervix may also soften a bit. Most women assume that a thinning and soft cervix during pregnancy is a sign of labor. If your cervix does begin to thin out and dilate significantly, then it could mean that you are about to go into labor soon, but that is not necessarily the case every time. You could even have a slightly dilated and soft cervix for several weeks, before you are actually ready to give birth. In fact, it is quite normal for your cervix to dilate up to 3 centimeters in the later stages of pregnancy. As the uterine contractions start, the cervix further opens to around 6 centimeters or so. It is the pressure applied by the baby that causes the cervix to further dilate 10 centimeters, which is regarded as complete dilation according to the cervix dilation chart. This is when you start experiencing the most severe cervical pain during pregnancy.

After you cross the 38th week of pregnancy, you will need to make regular appointments with your doctor, to check for cervical dilation. Do not try to assess the extent of your cervical dilation on your own, at any point during pregnancy. Not only is this is difficult task, but you could increase your risks of infections.

Cervical dilation in the first trimester

In case you experience the symptoms of cervical dilation in the first trimester of pregnancy, it is absolutely essential for you to consult your doctor without any delay. This could occur because of a serious condition known as cervical incompetence. The weakened cervix dilates under the pressure of the growing baby. If your doctor does not address this concern immediately, there could be a rupturing of your membranes. This could also lead to a miscarriage.

Cervical dilation in second trimester could also occur for the same reasons and needs to be addressed by a doctor, to reduce the risks of delivering a premature baby.

Cervical dilation during ovulation

Several women consult their doctors if it is normal to experience cervical dilation during ovulation. While your cervix is not exactly dilated, it does go through a few changes that make it more receptive to sperm. During ovulation, it is normal for women to feel that their cervix is high, wet and open.

It is important for all pregnant women to schedule regular checkups with their health care providers, to minimize the risks of any complications. During these sessions your doctor will probably also check your cervix, to make sure that there are no problems. In case you suspect that you may be suffering from any cervical problems during pregnancy, it is absolutely essential for you to consult your doctor, without any delay.

Symptoms of Cervical Dilation During Pregnancy

Throughout the course of a pregnancy, the cervix opening is sealed by a thick mucus plug. This prevents bacteria and infections from entering the uterus. Cervical dilation during pregnancy refers to the process in which this plug becomes loose to allow the baby to enter the vagina. In some cases, it comes out as one piece, but it could also come out as a thick discharge of mucus from the vagina. This discharge indicates that the cervix is starting to dilate, although many women do not notice this happening.

Another symptom of cervical dilation is ‘bloody show’. In this case, the mucus has a tinge of red, pink or brown, and the bloody show may continue throughout labor. Sometimes, there is a presence of blood after a cervical exam. Fresh blood is not usually visible, and could be an indication of a more serious problem.

The pain caused by dilation is often described as similar to that caused by periods, but more intense.

In some women, the cervix does not begin to dilate until the onset of labor; however, in many cases, the cervix would have already dilated 1 to 3 centimeters in the later stages of pregnancy. With labor come the uterine contractions which make the cervix open up to about 6 centimeters. After this, pressure from the baby causes the dilation to expand to about 10 centimeters. This is considered complete dilation, and is usually accompanied by effacement, or thinning of the cervix. The mother usually starts pushing at this stage, and baby is born shortly after.

Treatment for Cervical Dilation During Pregnancy

Sometimes, doctors may decide that they need to dilate the cervix artificially to induce labor. The body produces prostaglandins which aid in ripening and dilation. Doctors may apply a synthesized version of these to induce labor. This is not recommended for women who have already undergone a caesarean section in a previous pregnancy. Doctors could also use a device like a balloon catheter that expands while in place.

To check for cervical dilation, you can make an appointment with your doctor or care provider after the 40th week has passed. Until then, it is not a good idea to go for an internal examination. Also, don’t cry to check for cervical dilation yourself. This is difficult to do, and you could cause an infection for yourself.

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