Cervical dilation occurs during pregnancy and can be caused by the weight of the growing foetus, which is called cervical incompetence. This pressure strains the muscle and causes it to weaken and open. The cervix will also open during a normal labour. When the cervix begins to open, it is called dilation. During labour and the subsequent birth of a baby, the cervix dilates as the baby's head presses against it. To identify if the cervix is dilating and how much the dilation might be, a doctor or nurse will examine the patient. A vaginal exam tells the doctor what stage the cervix is at, how much effacement (thinning) has occurred and how dilated it is.
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Know the symptoms. If you are pregnant, you might experience bloody show or a mucous plug as the cervix dilates. This means that you have light vaginal spotting and pass a bit of mucous. This is not to be confused with vaginal bleeding, which is heavier and more like a menstrual period. Bloody show is usually light pink and there is just a small amount. The mucous plug is what seals the cervix during your pregnancy. Losing the mucous plug may be the first indicator that you are about to go into labour. Some women also experience vaginal cramping and pelvic pressure as the cervix opens.
Contact your physician, who will perform a pelvic examination to assess your situation. During this exam, the cervix is felt to determine how much effacement has occurred, as well as how much the cervix has opened. There is a grading system for this. The cervix effaces from 0 per cent (none) to 100 per cent (completely thinned out). Typically, the cervix begins to efface a few weeks before the baby's birth. Cervical dilation can also begin at this time and is graded by how many of the doctor's fingers can fit into the opening. One finger would mean that the labour process could begin within one or two weeks, five fingers would mean that the cervix is dilated halfway and labour is strong, and more than nine fingers means that labour is well under way and the baby's birth is imminent.
Understand abnormal symptoms. If you are not beyond 38 weeks of your pregnancy and you are experiencing pelvic pressure, cramping or vaginal bleeding, contact your physician immediately. You might be having preterm labour. In this case, you and your baby need immediate medical attention.
Communicate with your health care professionals. Only a pelvic examination will tell if your cervix is dilating. There is no other way to determine your condition without this specific exam.
Tips and warnings
- See your physician with any questions or concerns you may have.
- Bright red, vaginal bleeding that is not related to a menstrual cycle is a warning sign. See your doctor as soon as possible should you experience this symptom.