How to Check If Your Cervix Is Dilated—Without an Exam
Toward the end of your pregnancy, the anticipation of prepping for and meeting your baby gets intense. That's why there's no shortage of old wives' tales surrounding labor—or parents-to-be looking for any sign they can that their new addition to the family will be here soon.
If you're searching for clues that labor is near or just regularly going for your prenatal visits, then you've heard about cervix dilation, or the process of the cervix opening up to 10 centimeters to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal.
One thing to remember, though: Being dilated doesn't automatically mean labor is right around the corner. Your cervix could be completely closed and then be in active labor just hours later—or you could be 4 centimeters dilated and stay that way for weeks. Checking for dilation just gives a sense of your body's progress.
"There are no foolproof ways to tell that labor is imminent, or that it is a long ways off," says Marjorie Greenfield, M.D., vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland and author of The Working Woman's Pregnancy Book. "Even moms who have had babies before may experience each labor differently."
It's also important to note that some risks—like vaginal infection or premature rupture of membranes (PROM)—come along with a cervical exam, so you should consult with your health care provider about whether or not you need one and if it's a good idea for you to do one on yourself.
How to Check Cervix Dilation at Home
Still want to see where you stand? You can check yourself—but it's still crucial to work with an expert throughout your pregnancy. And if you're checking your own cervix in preparation of a home birth, you should also be working with a certified professional midwife who's trained in handling emergencies. "No one should have a home birth without excellent experienced support and lots of education," says Dr. Greenfield.
The traditional way
"Learning to assess cervical dilation is something that takes a while," says Dr. Greenfield, stressing the importance of relying on a trained doctor or midwife to support you during your pregnancy. "Even those of us who routinely do cervical checks and who might have tried to check ourselves aren't that accurate—it is hard to reach!"
It's probably best to leave cervical exams to the professionals, but you might still be curious to see if your body is gearing up for labor. Here's how to do a self-check if your doctor or midwife give you the green light:
- Thoroughly wash your hands. You can also trim your nails to help avoid any internal cuts. Remember: A cervical exam can introduce bacteria into your vaginal canal, increasing your risk of infection.
- Assume the position. Squatting with both legs wide open might help you reach best, or you could try sitting or standing with one leg elevated. You may want to recruit a support person to help keep you steady.
- Insert your index and middle finger and push your fingers deep inside as far as you can to reach your cervix. You'll want to be as gentle as possible so as not to cause any bruising or complications.
- Check dilation. You're considered 1 centimeter dilated if one fingertip fits through your cervix, 2 centimeters if you can fit two fingers, and then you can measure how far apart your fingers can spread and measure from there.
It's not easy and not super dependable, so it might be one DIY worth skipping.
The red/purple line method
There are safer, more noninvasive ways to check your own cervix dilation. And since dilation doesn't really act as the crystal ball that you're looking for anyway, going another route might not be so bad.
Enter: the red/purple line. As weird as it sounds, a red or purplish line can appear in the natal cleft—aka butt crack—of some pregnant people as they dilate and come closer to delivering. Some doulas prefer this method to help track progression and avoid internal exams.
Not a surefire way to determine how close baby is, but it certainly won't hurt to check. Simply have a partner or support person take a picture—yes, of your butt crack. The farther away from your anus and closer to your lower back the line appears, the closer to labor you might be.
Watch for Other Signs of Labor
"Generally labor is experienced as very strong contractions (so strong that someone with you could tell by your breathing or expression even if you were trying to hide it) coming regularly, closer than five minutes apart," says Greenfield. "That guideline still represents early labor for most moms-to-be—by the time the baby comes contractions are typically every 2 minutes or so, lasting a minute, and very intense."