How To Know If You Are Dilating: 5 Clear Signs That Labor Is Near

How To Know If You Are Dilating

Cervical dilation is necessary for the vaginal delivery of a baby. 

Baby’s birth is on its way once your cervix has become ten centimeters dilated. Your healthcare team may start to check you for dilation once a week in the late stages of the third trimester to see if you are beginning to dilate. 

Read on how to know if you are dilating without the presence of a doctor or midwife.

Cervical dilation

You will usually feel or notice your baby drop into the birth canal in the late stages of pregnancy as your due date looms near. 

This does not mean that you are in active labor yet. Cervix dilation begins shortly after that, and it occurs as the pressure of your baby and hormones tell your body that the pregnancy is near an end.

It won’t be long before labor begins, but it doesn’t mean that the moment your baby drops lower and you dilate, you’re about to have your little one. 

Even with some cervix dilation, you may still be waiting weeks for your baby to make its grand entrance.

The lead-up to early labor

Once the cervix begins to dilate, impending labor occurs. 

However, it can take weeks from the very beginning of dilation to the point of the baby’s safe delivery. Several factors lead to active labor in which you are having contractions and fully dilated.

Your past pregnancy record, including how many children you have had, the loss of your mucus plug, and others, all factor into how long you may have to wait to meet your little one once you dilate.

If you’re wondering how to tell whether or not you’re dilating, however, there are a few ways you can tell.

How To Know If You Are Dilating

Cervix dilation symptoms

The following are some signs that you are dilating and how to check for the progression of the dilation of your cervix.

1. Cervical exam

During your weekly prenatal visits with your doctor or midwife in the last part of your third trimester, your doctor may do a pelvic exam to check for dilation. 

The pelvic exam is done by the healthcare provider inserting two fingers into the vaginal opening and up to the cervix.

These exams are unnecessary, but many women prefer to know what stage of cervical dilation they are at. You can also ask your midwife how to check how many centimeters dilated you are using your finger. 

Follow directions exactly, and always wash your hands thoroughly before inserting. Most doctors will tell you to start with one middle finger and go from there.

2. Bloody show

One way to know that you are starting to dilate is by experiencing the bloody show, aka the loss of the mucus plug. 

The plug is a barrier that is made up of, you guessed it, mucus. 

Once you start dilating, the mucus plug dislodges, and you may see thick or stringy discharge in your underwear or on the toilet paper after you use the bathroom.

Many women lose their plug and don’t even realize it. It’s not a cork on a wine bottle, and there is no popping sound associated with it. 

Many women lose their mucus plug in bits as the cervix dilates slowly, so they never know they have lost it.

While you may experience light spotting, you should not have severe or heavy vaginal bleeding. If you experience bleeding or severe or constant pain in late pregnancy, seek help immediately.

3. Your water breaks

Pregnant women often leak urine during the late stages of pregnancy. 

If you notice a sudden gush or a constant trickle of fluid coming from your body, you’re probably leaking amniotic fluid. If you aren’t sure, contact your health practitioner immediately to get clarification.

Contact your health practitioner immediately if the leaking fluid has a foul smell or is green or brown. This can mean that your baby has had its first bowel movement already, and what is leaking from your body is baby feces. 

This is dangerous and puts you and your baby at risk. If you experience this, go to the hospital immediately.

Once your water breaks, you should start to experience contractions. This is a sign that the active stage of labor has begun.

4. Consistent contractions

Real contractions make your entire abdominal area tighten up. You will notice that your entire belly is tight. It may feel like back pain or extreme menstrual pain. 

You are considered in actual labor if contractions go on for a full minute every five minutes for about an hour. This is a sure sign that you are starting to dilate.

On the other hand, irregular contractions can still make you dilate a little bit, but they are more than likely what is known as Braxton-Hicks contractions or practice contractions. These are most common with first-time moms but can occur in any pregnancy.

If you are unsure whether or not the contractions are regular, don’t be afraid to get checked out by your healthcare provider or at the hospital.

5. Purple line dilation

As your baby’s birthday approaches and the big event of childbirth draws near, you can also tell if you are dilating by the purple line.

This purple line starts at the anus and goes up the back of the body, ending at the cleft of the buttocks. This line can tell a midwife or professional, by the length of the line, how far you have progressed in your dilation.

This is a great way to assess dilation if you are not comfortable with internal exams.

Checking cervix dilation and cervical dilation symptoms

How to know if you are dilating

Sometimes all you can do is wait and find out once the bag of waters that has protected your baby throughout pregnancy breaks on its own or when a doctor induces your labor

Sometimes there aren’t many signs available to let you know.

However, even in an induction, there are perks, such as the fact that you can make a game plan ahead of time that includes your spouse taking off work for the birth, arranging childcare for older children, etc.


As your baby’s head travels down into the vaginal canal, you dilate. When the thick plug falls out of the cervical opening, you are dilating. The gentle trickle of amniotic fluid that leaks when your water breaks also equate to dilation. 

All of these signs show that your cervix is fully dilated. However, when and how this happens can vary greatly depending upon factors like your past health history and effacement.

From zero percent to one hundred percent

Your cervix not only has to dilate, but it also has to thin out as well. 

This is calculated in percentages. So a fifty percent effacement, for example, means that you are halfway to the point of being thinned out enough to deliver.

This has to occur to make vaginal delivery possible. 

Many false starts have occurred when a dilated woman thinks it’s time to start pushing, but the effacement isn’t there. Sometimes this is bad news if you have your heart set on vaginal delivery.

C-Section vs. vaginal delivery

If you are in pre-term labor, aren’t progressing quickly enough through the active stage of labor, are experiencing either an infection or a complication during labor, or have had a c-section in the past, you may not be able to have a vaginal delivery.

In this case, it doesn’t matter how dilated you are. If you have to have a c-section, it’s okay. Nearly 32 percent of all deliveries are done this way. The only sound advice that can be given in this case is that all that matters is your health and the safety of your baby.


The only surefire way to know if you are dilating is to get checked out by a doctor. 

It takes a relatively short period to assess and poses little to no risk to you or your baby. Always be your own health advocate and tell your doctor that you’d like to be checked, and they will most likely oblige.

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