Understanding Dilation in Pregnancy: How Labor and Effacement Work

dilation in pregnancy

Dilation in pregnancy is needed in order for a baby to be born vaginally. When you become pregnant, it sounds scary, but understanding how it works does help.

Dilation in pregnancy is the opening or widening of the cervix at the end of pregnancy.  Dilation is also commonly referred to when the pupil widens or expands in eye dilation.  This article will focus on the specifics of dilation in pregnancy, in particular, that of the cervix.

The cervix is the also known as the mouth of the uterus. It is in fact the lower, narrower part of the uterus which connects the rest of the uterus to the vagina. It is a crucial part of the body in protecting the developing foetus and in advancing the process of childbirth. Without proper dilation of the cervix, a natural vaginal birth cannot happen.

Dilation in Pregnancy: Natural and Artificial Dilation

Cervical dilation can be a natural process or brought about artificially to access the uterus. In medical environments, the cervix is widened in order to carry out an internal investigation into the female reproductive system or to conduct an abortion. The body will only dilate the cervix naturally for a miscarriage or childbirth.

Effacement and Dilation in Pregnancy

Dilation of the cervix happens at the last stage of pregnancy, labor. It is during this period that the body begins to ready itself for childbirth with the cervix beginning to widen. As it widens, the mucus plug that has sealed the cervix and protected the fetus from external contact or contamination, loosens and falls out.

The uterus begins to contract, causing the cervix to widen further. Effacement in pregnancy is the process by which the cervix becomes shortened and pulls up to become part of the uterine wall. This allows for the fetus to pass easily out of the uterus and into the birth canal, or vagina.

There are four physical stages of labor based on the how the cervix and uterus change and adapt to give passage to the baby in childbirth.

  • Stage 1: Beginning of labor, Cervix shortens and widens, Ends when cervix effaced into uterine wall and is open 10cm
  • Stage 2: Cervix fully effaced and dilated
  • Stage 3: Actual birth of the baby
  • Stage 4: Delivery of the placenta from the body

Dilation in Pregnancy and Inducing Labor

In some circumstances, the cervix does not dilate at all or enough during labor, and it must be artificially widened. The application of prostaglandin hormones to the cervix usually induces it to begin or increase dilation.

Prostaglandins are naturally occurring human hormones that are found in most body cells, and in semen. Due to its presence in semen, this has led to the remedy of suggesting sexual intercourse to stimulate labor. A non-chemical method to inducing labor is stimulation of the nipples, which causes the body to release oxytocin which in turn stimulates the uterus to contract.

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