Most women only tend to care about how far they’ve dilated when they’re in labor. Because, ultimately, that’s the signal when baby can start coming out.
But there is a bit more going on with your body and baby’s placement ‘down there.’ There is cervical Dilation, and also Effacement, then even something called Station that pertains more to your baby.
What’s the difference between them all and why are they important?
Cervical Dilation and Effacement
When you’re in early and active labor, this is when your body is getting your cervix properly opened. Even the few weeks before you start experiencing labor your cervix will soften and become very pliable. Your doctor may tell you so when you start getting checked for progress at 37 weeks.
You can start dilation and effacement weeks before you deliver and gradually open up. Or you may even progress completely overnight from start to finish.
- Dilation – you already know this one. This is the widening of the cervix (measured in centimeters) from completely closed to fully open at 10 cm. Once open, your urge to push and bear down starts and the baby descends through your birth canal.
- Effacement – this one is less well known. Your cervix is normally around 5 cm thick and squeezed shut through your entire pregnancy. Effacement is when your cervix thins out to a small layer (scaled by a percentage). When your doctor says your 100% effaced, that means you’re as thin as your going to get.
When your baby’s head presses down on your cervix, the pressure adds to the stimulus of thinning along with some hormones and other bio-molecules that help too.
Your doctor will measure and feel for both simply with his fingers. Your nurse or midwife will do this during your labor too to determine how far you’ve come. It’s a very subjective measurement though based upon the thickness of one’s fingers doing the measuring. It’s a ‘feel’ that they have to learn over time, because it’s not like they can stick a ruler up there to look.
To determine how far you’ve come … it’s a ‘feel’ that they have to learn over time, because it’s not like they can stick a ruler up there to look.
This means that you could have two people check your progress and get slightly different opinions on how wide you’ve opened up. But you will know when you’re fully open because your uterus will start to bear down all on its own.
When your baby starts moving downward, its head lines up against your pelvis bones at certain places. Measured from -3 to +3, it the location of how far your baby has dropped down. A station measurement of zero means baby is ready to move into your vagina and they are as far down as they can go until you’re fully dilated. When your baby’s head is crowning and just about all the way out, that is when your +3 station.
I found this cute pic explaining where the measurements technically are. It’s easier to understand when you see it visually.
And that’s basically it. When you’re checked for dilation, the doctor or nurse can judge your baby’s station by feeling against the lower pelvic and tail bones that press against your vaginal wall.
It’s really not that complicated, but your may not hear anything about effacement or station while you’re in labor. Remember to squat so it helps make even MORE room for your baby. Did you know that you can increase your pelvic opening by an entire centimeter when you squat?
Get yourself a Squatty Potty stool and start opening up your pelvic bones daily so that you’re as flexible as can be when the baby arrives. I still use mine and love it! How far were you dilated before you went into labor?
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- Moving Right Along: Fetal Station in Labor and Delivery
- Effacement, Dilation and Station | Babies Online