Cervix Dilation Chart: The Stages of Labor 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 familiar foods for an easy-to-understand size comparison.   

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

In preparation for the birth of your baby, 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 even weeks before delivery. You might notice this process beginning with an increase in vaginal discharge or even losing your mucus plug. If you're delivering vaginally, once your cervix opens to the magic number—10 centimeters—you're ready to push and deliver.

Knowing what to expect can be a comfort when you're preparing to give birth. 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.

Keep reading to learn more about how cervical dilation progresses throughout the stages of labor, and check out our handy chart that helps you visualize the size of the dilation with familiar foods.

Cervical Dilation Chart in Pictures

If you consent to cervical exams, your health care provider may update you on how dilated you are during labor, but it can be hard to translate what "4 centimeters" or "8 centimeters" actually means to your body. To help you visualize it, we've created a cervical dilation chart, using familiar foods as a point of comparison.

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

The Stages of Labor

Labor happens in three stages. Here's what to expect in each of them.

Stage 1: Cervical dilation and effacement

During the first stage of labor, the cervix opens and thins, which allows for vaginal delivery. The first stage of labor further breaks down into three phases, outlined in the next section.

Stage 2: Pushing and birth

When the cervix is fully dilated and the baby descends down the birth canal, you're in the second stage of labor. Eventually, your body begins pushing (your health care provider may coach you to push if you've had an epidural) and you deliver the baby.

Stage 3: Delivery of the placenta

After giving birth, you'll have a few more contractions that will help you deliver the placenta (or "afterbirth"). This stage commonly only lasts for several minutes but can take up to an hour without intervention. But you may be too distracted by your baby to pay much attention to it.

Cervical Dilation During Labor

Cervical effacement and dilation happen 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 cervix.

The early phase

In this phase, the cervix dilates 3 or 4 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 (sometimes referred to as 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 4 to 7 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. This phase 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
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