How many centimeters dilated am I?

January 17, 2011

This is a must-read article for all moms who want a natural childbirth. The worst thing that ever happened to birthing women was the invention of the internal cervical exam. You can expect to slow your labor by an hour or more for each vaginal exam you submit to. And dilation effectively means NOTHING about when the baby is going to arrive. You can progress from a 2 to a 10 in a few minutes, or get “stuck” at a nine for hours. Women feel like they have failed some kind of labor math test when they find out their cervixes aren’t behaving according to some pre-set timeline. It is at this point that many moms let go of their focus and give in to the almighty epidural.

It’s the magic question weighing on most laboring mothers’ minds: (as well as the minds of her partner or birth attendants!) How much longer? Is there any way to tell how far along I am in the birthing process? I’ve seen mothers beg for an internal exam and then be gutted about the answer (What? ONLY 4cm STILL!?) and suddenly *poof* she looses her resolve. It’s akin to having a test and finding out you’ve failed it, in front of your loved ones as well as complete strangers. Everyone knows this feeling is not conducive to labor – suddenly doubt and fear slide in and the laboring mother feels tense. Her oxytocin levels (our body’s natural pain-killer and labor inducer) take a nose dive and immediately she feels much more pain and she starts to run away from the contractions.

Happily, there are a number of external cues that can help you and birth partners get clued in to how much labor is advancing. Some are more subtle than others, but if you are ignoring the clock and keeping focused on staying in tune with your body, you will see them. Listen, embrace, wait.  Enjoy the way it responds! It is amazing what it can do, this body that God gave you.

Read about the external signs of dilation here:

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