Cervix dilation is a critical part of labour – an essential stage to allow your baby to be born. It’s perfectly natural to ask: How do I know if my cervix is dilating?
You might be thinking you’ll feel less impatient, if you know your cervix is dilating.
Luckily, there are several signs of cervix dilation, which very pregnant women will notice without having to have a cervical check.
Cervix Dilation – How Do I Know If My Cervix Is Dilating?
If you pay attention to your body, you might pick up some early signs of cervix dilation.
You can opt to not have cervical checks during labour. Your care provider can use these signs as a means of assessing the progression of your labour.
Here are 7 signs to tell whether your cervix is dilating.
#1: Lightning Crotch
Sounds exciting, but lightning crotch is an unmistakable pain that happens to many women in the last weeks of pregnancy.
The term is used to describe sharp, shooting pains that are felt in the vagina.
The pain can be due to the pressure of your baby’s head as it descends into the pelvis.
It pushes on nerves and causes lightning shocks of pain.
When cervical dilation begins, it can also cause sharp vaginal pain.
#2: Hello Bloody Show
If you see brown or pink tinged mucus appearing on your knickers, it’s an early sign of cervix dilation.
During pregnancy, the cervix forms a seal called the mucus plug.
This prevents bacteria travelling up from the vagina and causing infection.
Thinning of the cervix causes blood vessels to be broken.
This causes the mucus to appear as pink or brown.
It’s important to seek medical advice about vaginal bleeding.
This is especially the case if:
- You’re earlier than 37 weeks
- The bleeding changes to bright red (not blood streaked)
- The bleeding becomes pronounced.
#3: Cramping And Backache
Ok, so you’re very pregnant and really…which part of you doesn’t hurt or ache in one way or another?
If you have cramps that occur low down, just above your pubic bone, this can be a sign your cervix is dilating.
It might feel something like the cramping ache you have just before, or at the start of your period.
You might also feel a dull ache in the lower part of your back, which comes at regular intervals.
This can be the start of labour contractions!
#4: Feel Your Fundus
The basic mechanics of labour and birth are often mixed up.
Most people tend to think of the process as: cervix dilates, uterus contracts, baby is born.
In fact, for the cervix to dilate, the uterus needs to contract first.
Before labour begins, the uterus has a thick layer of muscle which is even all over.
When the uterus begins to contract, the muscle at the bottom of the uterus is pulled up.
You can read more in What Your Uterus Does During Labour.
The fundus thickens as the cervix dilates.
You can check this during a contraction by checking how many fingers you can fit between the fundus (the very top of your baby bump) and your bra line.
At the beginning of labour, you should be able to fit five fingers in the space.
As your cervix dilates, the fundus will rise and you will fit fewer fingers in the space.
#5: Make Some Noise
During the early part of labour, you can talk and move about.
Eventually you might want to focus, breathe, and move your hips – certainly not hold a discussion.
After each contraction you go back to chatting and moving about to organise things.
As the cervix becomes more dilated, contractions become more intense. This stage of labour is called active stage labour.
Soon you won’t be able to talk during a contraction, even if you really want to.
But you might vocalise in some way, such as moaning, or breathing.
You will want to rest between the contractions, and you’ll probably be unaware of what others are doing or saying.
The further your cervix dilates, the further you will go into this state.
When you’re nearing full dilation, you might begin to make new sounds, which are deeper and throatier.
#6: The Purple Line
It might sound like an old wives’ tale but the purple line is a way of measuring cervical dilation which is backed by research.
Basically, the purple line is exactly what its name suggests. As the baby’s head moves down, a reddish purple or brown line creeps up from the anus to the top of the cleft of the buttocks.
The length of the line correlates with cervical dilation, and is present in most women.
If you want to check, you might need an assistant, or a mirror you can stand in front of.
You might find the line is more prominent and easier to see the further you progress in labour.
#7: Cervical Checks
The most obvious way to find out about cervix dilation is to do a cervical check.
But this isn’t necessarily the easiest way.
It involves lying down on your back, and having someone who is probably unknown to you insert a couple of fingers into your vagina and the opening of the cervix.
The results are often inconsistent when different people do the check, compared with someone who is familiar with your cervix.
Cervical checks are a routine part of hospital maternity care but it doesn’t mean they are mandatory.
You can read more about this in Are Cervical Checks During Labour Necessary?.
It’s your body, however, and if you feel you want to check your own cervix it’s your choice.
And, unlike hospital cervical checks, you don’t have to do anything with the information you discover.
For some women, an awareness of how their bodies are unfolding is empowering.
It helps to know your cervix as well as possible before and during pregnancy.
Then you can check regularly to see what feels ‘normal’ and what it’s like when cervix dilation starts.
Make sure you thoroughly wash your hands and arms, up to the elbow, using warm water and a mild soap.
If your waters have broken, leave your cervix alone, to avoid introducing bacteria into the area. Bacterial infection can have serious consequences.