In preparation for delivery, your cervix effaces (thins and stretches) and dilates (opens) so your baby can fit through the birth canal. This cervical ripening can begin days or weeks before your due date. Once your cervix opens to the magic number—10 centimeters—you’re ready to push and deliver the baby!
Keep reading to learn more about how cervical dilation progresses throughout the stages of labor, and check out our handy chart that compares cervix dilation size to fruit.
The Stages of Labor
Labor happens in three stages. Here’s what to expect in each of them.
Stage 1: Dilation and Effacement of the Cervix: The cervix opens and thins, which allows for vaginal delivery. The first stage of labor is further broken down into three phases; learn more about these below.
Stage 2: Pushing and Birth: At this stage, your cervix is fully dilated, and your baby descends down the birth canal. Eventually, your health care provider will encourage you to start pushing and deliver your little one!
Stage 3: Delivery of the Placenta: After giving birth, you’ll have mild contractions before delivering the placenta (“the afterbirth”). This stage only lasts for several minutes, and you’ll be so distracted by your new baby that you’ll pay very little attention to it.
Cervix Dilation During Labor
Cervical effacement and dilation happens in the first stage of labor, which can be further broken down into three phases: the early phase, the active phase, and the transition phase. Here’s how each phase affects your cervical dilation.
Cervix Dilation in the Early Phase
During this phase, the cervix dilates three or four centimeters. The time between contractions ranges from five minutes to 30 minutes, and they last around 30-45 seconds each. Because contractions are generally mild, most women spend this stage of labor, which is also called the “entertainment phase,” in the comfort of their homes. Expect the early phase of labor to last around six to 10 hours if you’re a first-time mom, and two to five hours if you’ve given birth before.
Here’s how to visualize cervical dilation throughout the early phase of labor:
1 cm dilated: Cheerios
2 cm dilated: Grape
3 cm dilated: Banana Slice
4 cm dilated: Cracker
Cervix Dilation in the Active Phase
The active phase is characterized by contractions that are more intense and frequent, coming every three to five minutes. Labor pain may radiate around the abdomen, back, and thighs. Your cervix will also dilate from around four to seven centimeters. First-time moms experience active labor for around three to six hours; it generally lasts one to three hours for subsequent pregnancies.
Here’s how to visualize cervical dilation throughout the active phase of labor:
5 cm dilated: Lime Slice
6 cm dilated: Cookie
7 cm dilated: Orange Slice
Cervix Dilation in the Transition Phase
Moms-to-be can expect intense contractions during the transition phase—and possibly nausea, pelvic pressure, shakiness, and fatigue as well. Your cervix will finish effacing and dilating to the full 10 centimeters. This phase lasts anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours.
Here’s how to visualize cervical dilation throughout the transition phase of labor:
8 cm dilated: Halved Apple
9 cm dilated: Donut
10 cm dilated: Cantaloupe Melon
Cervix Dilation Chart in Pictures
Your doctor will update you on cervical dilation progress throughout labor, but it can be hard to imagine your lady parts opening, say, 4 cm or 8 cm. To help you visualize it, we’ve created a cervix dilation picture chart with fruit.