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Woman right before giving birth

How to Check Your Cervix for Dilation: A Step-By-Step Guide

You can check cervix dilation at home by performing a quick pelvic exam using two clean fingers. It’s pretty much the same way your doctor would do it.

However, if you’d prefer something non-invasive, there’s another way. You can use the mysterious purple line that appears in your butt crack. Handy!

Measuring Cervical Dilation

1. Ask Your Medical Professional First

If you have a cervical stitch, placenta previa, a history of dilation issues, or your waters have broken, it’s not safe to check your own cervix. If in doubt, ask your doctor or midwife.

2. Wash Your Hands

Before you start, thoroughly wash your hands, trim your nails and remove any jewelry. This will minimize the risk of introducing bacteria, which could cause infection.

3. Get Into a Comfortable Position

The best positions include squatting, standing with one leg up on the bathtub, or lying on the floor with your legs resting on the couch.

4. Insert Two Fingers

Carefully insert your middle and index fingers into your vagina.

5. Locate Your Cervix

Think of your vagina as a corridor; the cervix is the door at the end. Undilated, it will feel like lips puckered for a kiss. As it dilates, it may feel more like a rubbery circle surrounding your bag of waters.

6. Check the Dilation

Gently try to insert your fingers into your cervix. If you can insert one finger, you’re 1 centimeter dilated. Two fingers means you’re 2 centimeters dilated, and so on.

7. What to Do Next

All women dilate at different rates, so 3 centimeters could mean you’ll give birth today or a few weeks from now. If you’re 4 or more centimeters dilated, you’re in active labor, and you should go to a hospital or prepare for your home birth.

Measuring Dilation During Labor

Measuring your dilation during active labor gets tricky. Not just because of the contractions but also because you’ll be over 4 cm dilated and won’t want to insert two hands. Instead, estimate the dilation by spreading your fingers and use the dilation chart below as a guide.

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The Red/Purple Line Method

If you can’t or don’t want to physically check your cervix, the red/purple line method is a non-invasive alternative. Around 76% of women develop a purple line in their natal cleft, also known as their butt crack, during labor. If you have one, it’s quick and safe to check.

  1. Use a mirror or ask your partner or doula to look for a purple line. It will start near your anus.
  2. Keep checking the line as your labor progresses. It will move up between your buttocks.
  3. When the line reaches the top of your cleft, or butt crack, you are fully dilated.

What You Need to Know About Dilation

Does Checking Your Cervix Dilation Hurt?

Checking your own cervix dilation should not hurt. Too much pressure or poking could cause bruising or even break the amniotic sac, so you should be very gentle. If you feel any pain, remove your fingers.

It also shouldn’t hurt when a doctor or midwife checks cervical dilation. However, lots of women do find it uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Remember, you can refuse any unwanted examinations during your pregnancy and labor.

How Does a Doctor Check for Dilation?

To check your dilation, a doctor will perform a pelvic exam.

  1. Wearing sterile gloves, they’ll insert two fingers into the vaginal canal.
  2. They’ll feel the cervix and check the effacement, or how stretched and thin it is.
  3. Then, they’ll measure the dilation based on finger width and experience.
  4. In rare cases, they might use a transvaginal ultrasound to get a more precise measurement.


Can Checking for Dilation Cause Labor?

No, checking for dilation cannot cause labor. However, sometimes your doctor or midwife will take the opportunity to do a membrane sweep. This procedure involves sweeping their finger around your cervix to separate it from the membranes. It increases the chances of labor starting within 48 hours.

Can Checking the Cervix Cause the Mucus Plug to Come Out?

Yes, checking your cervix can dislodge your mucus plug. If this happens before 36 weeks, consult your doctor, as they may wish to examine you. If you’re more than 37 weeks pregnant, losing your mucus plug is no cause for concern.

Can You Check Effacement at Home?

Yes, you can check effacement, or the softening and thinning, of your cervix at home. During your dilation check, take a moment to think about whether your cervix feels hard and thick or mushy and thin. The softer your cervix, the further along you are. 

Can You Dilate Without Knowing?

Yes, your cervix can dilate with no signs or symptoms. It’s not uncommon for women to find out they are 3 centimeters dilated at a routine check-up.

How Long Does It Take To Get From 1 cm to 10 cm Dilation?

It can take hours, days, and sometimes weeks to dilate from 1 cm to 10 cm. The process is typically faster if you’ve had a baby before, but there’s no way of knowing how long it will take.

Why Is It Important to Check the Cervix Right Before Giving Birth?

It’s important not to push before the cervix is fully dilated. Pushing too soon can cause the cervix to swell and become less dilated or could result in damage to the vaginal canal.

However, this does not mean that you have to consent to a pelvic exam. An experienced professional will be able to assess your dilation in other ways. They can observe your behavior, the frequency and length of your contractions, and the position of your purple line.

Laura Davies

Laura is a dedicated writer and keen researcher, passionate about creating articles that help and inspire. She loves to delve into journals and the latest research, so her readers don’t have to. She’s also an ex-teacher and mom to two young daughters. Her experience with finger painting, den building, and diapers is extensive, and she’s always happy to share what she’s learned along the way.

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