Cervical Dilation Chart: The Stages of Labor Explained in Pictures

During labor, your cervix will dilate to open up the birth canal. Visualize the process with our handy cervical dilation chart, which uses fruit for an easy-to-understand comparison.   

Pregnant woman holding apple in one hand and touching belly with other hand
Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

When you're preparing to give birth, knowing what to expect can be a comfort. Being able to visualize what's happening in your cervix, especially if it's your first time, can help you feel more in control of the process, and even lessen your pain. Doulas often suggest that you picture the cervix opening like a flower, and practice affirmations and meditations as you imagine your baby traveling into the world.

Whether or not you choose to do that, it's still critical to be informed. And the process itself is amazing. In the days or weeks before your due date, your cervix will efface (thin and stretch) and dilate (open) to allow your baby to fit through the birth canal, a phenomenon known as "cervical ripening." Once your cervix opens to the magic number—10 centimeters—you're ready to push and deliver your child!

To learn more about what cervical dilation looks like in each stage of labor, check out our handy chart below, which helps you visualize the size of the dilation with 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 further breaks down into three phases, as shown below.

Stage 2: Pushing and birth: The cervix is fully dilated, and the baby descends down the birth canal. Eventually, a health care provider encourages you to start pushing and deliver your little one!

Stage 3: Delivery of the placenta: After giving birth, you'll have mild contractions and deliver the placenta (or "afterbirth"). But you may be too distracted by your baby to pay much attention to it!

Cervical Dilation During Labor

Cervical effacement and dilation in the first stage of labor contains three phases: the early phase, the active phase, and the transition phase. Here's how each phase affects your cervix.

The early phase

In this phase, the cervix dilates three or four centimeters. The time between contractions ranges from five to 30 minutes, and the contractions last around 30 to 45 seconds each. Because contractions are generally mild, most people spend this stage (called the "entertainment phase") at home. The phase lasts about six to 10 hours for first-timers, and two to five hours for those who've given birth before.

Here's how to visualize cervical dilation during the early phase of labor:

1 cm dilated: Cheerio

2 cm dilated: Grape

3 cm dilated: Banana slice

4 cm dilated: Cracker

The active phase

The active phase is characterized by contractions that are more intense and frequent, arriving every three to five minutes. Labor pain may radiate around your abdomen, back, and thighs. Your cervix is also dilated by around four to seven centimeters. Someone who has never given birth before may be in active labor for around three to six hours; a person who's done it before might take one to three hours.

Here's how to visualize cervical dilation during the active phase of labor:

5 cm dilated: Lime slice

6 cm dilated: Cookie

7 cm dilated: Orange slice

The transition phase

The most intense contractions occur in the transition phase—and can potentially trigger sensations of nausea, pelvic pressure, shakiness, and fatigue. In this phase, your cervix will finish effacing and dilate to the full 10 centimeters. It may take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours.

Here's how to visualize cervical dilation during the transition phase of labor:

8 cm dilated: Halved Apple

9 cm dilated: Donut

10 cm dilated: Cantaloupe

Cervical Dilation Chart in Pictures

Your health care provider will update you on how dilated you are during labor, but it can be hard to translate what "4 cm" or "8 cm" means to your body. To help you visualize it, we've created a cervical dilation chart, using fruit as a point of comparison.

Cervix Dilation Chart with Fruit
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong. Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
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