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The Stages of Labor: Dilation

Pregnant woman holding blanket, feeling abdominal pain, risk of miscarriage

As we covered in our labor and childbirth blog on vaginal delivery, no two experiences are the same. Dilation occurs during the first stage of labor and your certified nurse-midwife (CNM) will be there in full support of you and baby throughout the entire process. In this blog, we’ll be detailing the dilation stage of labor and what you can expect. We hope this provides information that you’ll find helpful and reassuring. 

We first suggest writing a birth plan. This plan can help provide a framework during what can often be an overwhelming time.


First up, defining dilation. The cervix connects the uterine cavity to the vagina. When it’s time for labor, the cervix opens, making enough room for the baby to pass through. This is called dilation. Active labor starts when you are dilated 3 centimeters or more.

Early Labor 

Dilation occurs during early labor. The irregular, mild contractions that you begin to feel during the early stages of labor are your cervix dilating and effacing. During this stage, losing the mucus plug that blocks the cervical opening might create a discharge from your vagina. It might be pink, a little bloody or clear. This is normal, especially during this stage. If you have any concerns at all about a discharge that might seem irregular, contact your certified nurse-midwife right away.


Early labor timing can be unpredictable. We find that first child deliveries are longer on average, ranging from hours to days, and later delivered are oftentimes shorter. While we understand that this part of labor can be nerve-wracking, we encourage you to do things that help you stay relaxed and comfortable. 

During this time, a few things that might help are going for a walk, changing positions, practicing your breathing, listening to calming music, or taking a bath or shower. 

Your certified nurse-midwife will be in communication with you and let you know when it’s time for you to leave for the hospital. If your water breaks or you experience vaginal bleeding, contact your nurse-midwife immediately.

Active Labor

Your cervix dilates approximately one centimeter per hour, on average. The next stage of labor comes when the cervix is fully dilated to 10 centimeters. Once you go into active labor, your cervix dilates from 6 centimeters to 10 centimeters. Soon, your contractions will occur closer together and will become stronger. 

Talk to A Midwife

At City of Oaks Midwifery, our goal is to help patients in Raleigh and the greater Triangle area achieve the birth that they desire. We believe in watchful waiting and non-intervention birth processes but work in collaboration with other members of the health care team as needed to provide optimal health care for both the mother and her baby. To schedule an appointment with one of our certified nurse-midwives, call (919) 351-8253.

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