Many moms aren’t very sure what happens down there during the labor when they hear their doctors use some terms like ‘dilation’, ‘station’, or ‘effacement’. More than that they don’t know how long will the stubborn bouts of labor pain stay.
To understand this, a mother must know in detail how their body behaves at each stage.
Labor and birth aren’t the two stages of delivery—they include a series of events that happen gradually as the body incurs the changes in the final phase of pregnancy.
Nearing the term of pregnancy, your baby drops in the pelvis just before the labor progresses—now, you know what they mean by saying the baby’s head is engaged. Your doctor does an internal checkup of the cervix to make sure the baby is engaged. She will stick up her fingers down there as far as possible and will check for two things:
1. Dilation: That is opening up of cervix, Effacement: Which means the cervix becomes shorter or thinner
2. She will also check if the cervix has become soft and moved towards the front of baby’s head.
Dilation And Effacement Of Cervix ( The Opening And Thinning )
Before the labor starts, the cervix is firm and tight and feels like the tip of your nose. It is in the posterior position at this point—which means it is slightly tilted towards your back, and the baby’s head isn’t in line with the cervix.
As the labor starts, the cervix moves from posterior to mid-position and, then, in the anterior position—frontward, for the baby to be born. Its walls become softer and thinner.
1. Initially, at zero dilation, there exists a mucous plug that guards the cervix, blocking the opening and also protecting the baby from bacteria that would otherwise seep into the uterus.
2. The mucous plug drains out through vagina and marks the dilation of the cervix and beginning of the labor. Many times it goes unnoticed since the vaginal discharge is high during pregnancy.
3. Cervix can take its own time to dilate or open from 0 centimeters to a maximum of 10 centimeters—and, by that, we mean this time can range from hours to days to even weeks.
4. With each contraction, your baby will press down on the cervix, causing it to dilate gradually. When the cervix dilates completely ( up to 10 centimeters) is when your baby will move down—you will probably feel an irresistible urge to push.
5. If your midwife tells you that you are 1 centimeter dilated, you may feel the moment is close, but it may take longer. You can’t predict when the cervix will dilate or how long will it take.
6. It could be possible that you are dilated to a few centimeters without going into labor or feeling any pain. You could also be in labor without any dilation and your cervix firmly shut.
The dilation is estimated by examining the width of the finger that can fit the opening of your cervix. If the tip of your doctor’s single finger fits in your cervix, the dilation is considered to be 1 centimeter. If the tip of two fingers can fit the cervix, it has opened by 2 centimeters. The subsequent dilation measurements can be estimated by how far the two fingers can be stretched. By 10 centimeters dilation, your doctor will advise you to push—pushing before that could create a risk of injury and bruises for you and your baby. You might even feel the urge to push after 100% dilation of the cervix.
If your midwife or doctor says something like 3/50/-2, it gives an estimation of the progress of your labor. The first number indicates dilation, which will reach up to 10 centimeters. The number 50 indicates effacement, you will be looking forward to reaching 100. The third number is referred to as station, which determines your baby’s position with respect to your pelvis. A little technical here, but know that the number will gradually increase to -1, 0, +1, +2 and so on, indicating that your baby is descending lower into the pelvis until they are born.
Getting Through The Labor
The process of childbirth is extremely painful and challenging. Though your body is on autopilot and doing everything in its capacity to deliver the baby, you can assist yourself and make things easier during labor.
Here is how to help yourself during labor.
1. Warm Water Bath
Having a warm shower or sitting in a tub of warm water can help ease down the pain while you are dilating. It will help you relax and release the tension in your body.
2. Little Walk
Walking widely but slowly during labor can help you dilate. Ask the hospital staff if you could get out of bed and go for a little walk within the hospital.
A back massage could actually be a help for a mother in labor. Lie on your side or sit in a comfortable position and ask your partner to gently rub your back.
4. Empty Bladder
A fuller bladder will put pressure on your cervix and impend the labor—it is best to relieve yourself and make the way easier for your baby to move down. However, that doesn’t mean you dehydrate yourself. Keep drinking water and urinate regularly.
5. Visualization Techniques
Visualize the movement and descent of your baby—it will help you overcome the fear of labor and birth. Use the power of your mind to relax your body by imagining how your cervix will open up and make way for your baby to move down through the birth canal and come out to be in your arms.
Your focus should be to avoid getting stressed and staying calm—this way you will be able to listen to your body, making the birth easier.