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  • Whoa! This Is How Wide Your Cervix Opens Up During Childbirth

    It's a chart that helps doctors and midwives show cervix dilation from one to 10 centimeters.
    by Rachel Perez .
Whoa! This Is How Wide Your Cervix Opens Up During Childbirth
PHOTO BY @scvbirth/Instagram
  • Childbirth is a miracle of life, but it's no walk in the park. If anyone ever doubted a woman's strength, there are many countless stories of incredible and unbelievable births (see some amazing ones here and here). But if they need a non-NSFW image to go with it, this dilation chart should silence any naysayer and the perfect visual reminder of our strength.

    Last April 2019, a photo of a wooden dilation chart widely circulated on Facebook. "This is what 10 cm of dilation looks like. This is why we deserve all the things," user Steffanie Christi'an wrote in the caption.

    The image shows how a five-day-old baby's head fits nicely in that 10-centimeter hole. Yes, let that sink in for a moment.  

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    The image has been shared more than 180,000 times and had received close to 16,000 reactions on Facebook. The nearly 477 comments are mostly in shock, disbelief, and awe. For some moms, it brought back memories of how painful labor was for them. "We women deserve all the things!" one comment agreed. (We totally agree).

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    The photo was taken by midwife Renee Sicignano of SCV Birth Center, a birth center in Los Angeles, California. The dilation board was crafted by Jennifer Compton, from Buffalo, Missouri (and it's available on Etsy.)

    Doctors and midwives use the board or chart as a learning tool to illustrate and show the dilation of the cervix from one centimeter up to a full 10 centimeters. If your baby's head is larger than 10 cm, don't panic. A newborn's skull is still soft and malleable that it's can easily squeeze into the birth canal.

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    What is cervical effacement and dilation?

    During labor, doctors just tell you how dilated you are during a vaginal internal exam (IE). They're talking about how wide your cervix is stretching, which it needs to do to deliver a baby.

    As the baby's head drops to the pelvis, it pushes against the cervix, which begins to "ripen" or soften. The thinning of the cervix is the process called effacement by which your cervix prepares for childbirth. When you see a pinkish or red-tinged, sticky, and a gelatin-like substance on your undies, it means your mucus plug has detached from your cervix. 

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    Once your cervix opens or dilate, you're at your first stage of labor. Real labor contractions help your cervix to dilate. These are contractions that are happening more regularly, more prolonged, and more intense as your cervix reaches full dilation. It's a gradual process, which can take days (even weeks), and every woman dilates at a different rate.

    Dilation is measured in centimeters as the dilation board shows, while effacement is measured in percentage.

    Your cervix thinning and opening is stage 1 of labor

    Labor has three stages, and the first stage is further divided into three phases, which involves the dilation and ripening of your cervix. At the early phase, contractions during early labor are only 35 to 45 seconds long, about 20 minutes or less apart. By the time your cervix is fully dilated, your contractions should be about 60 to 90 seconds long and about two to three minutes apart.

    When you're fully dilated, you might feel an overwhelming urge to push, or your doctor might instruct you to do so to help your baby come out. You might also feel a tingling, stretching, and stinging sensation in your vagina as your baby's head is crowning. But as your baby emerges from your vagina, it can feel like slippery, wet, and often painless.

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    This is how the miracle of childbirth works. Your due date is an estimate, and your body will eventually start the labor and delivery process when you're baby is ready to be born. Kegel exercises and perineal massages can come in handy for preggos during labor.

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    Occasionally, a pregnant woman's labor stalls, and the baby appears to get stuck. There are labor interventions, such as induction and episiotomy, where the doctor makes a clean cut to the perineum and the muscles beneath it, between the vagina and the anus, that may help move the process along.

    Also, the cervix is not the vagina, it's a muscle deep inside the back of the vagina, as Sicignano explains in SVC Birth Center's birth explanation video below. A woman's vagina also stretches during childbirth, but it goes back to its original shape.

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