6 ways to progress in labor

You’ve probably heard about measuring progression in labor through dilation (“6 centimeters now!”, or “Ugh, I was 1 centimeter at my last appointmet” – that kind of thing). But did you know that there are five other important steps that we expect to see happen during labor? Here’s a handy breakdown of the six main ways people progress in labor.


#1: the cervix moves forward.

This is often the first sign of progress toward or in labor. A cervix is usually posterior (by the adult spine), and moves to be anterior (by the baby’s presenting part – usually head). When it’s between those two, you might hear a provider refer to that as a “mid” cervix.


#2: the cervix ripens.

The feel of the cervix changes to be more loosy – goosy or mushy. Try touching your forehead. That’s like a non-ripened cervix. Then touch the tip of your nose. That’s like a partially ripened cervix. Now pinch your earlobe. That’s like a pretty ripened cervix. This mush-ening helps make the cervix flexible enough to mould around the baby.


#3: the cervix effaces.

Isn’t it amazing how cool and transformative a cervix can be?!

Effacing basically just means thinning out. It is measured on a scale from 0-100%, almost always reported in multiples of 10.


#4: the cervix dilates.

This is the one you’ve probably heard the most about. After months of staying closed to protect baby from outside elements, the cervix gets wider in order to accomodate baby coming through. This is described on a scale of centimeters – from 0 to complete (around 10-ish, but that can be different for different babies! Complete just means that the cervix has dilated so much that baby’s head can slip through it).


#5: the baby descends.

Baby moves from high up by the parent’s ribs, down low into the pelvis. We measure this with a number called “station,” which ranges from -5 to 5; confusingly, the higher the number, the lower baby is. (A baby at 5 is crowning.)


#6: the baby rotates.

Babies do a little spinning trick to navigate getting the wide part of their head through the wide part of the pelvis, and then getting their wide shoulders through that same wide part. These are called the “cardinal movements of birth.”


See? Dilation is an important part of progress, but it’s definitely not the whole story. It’s amazing how bodies can work to facilitate birth in a bunch of different ways!

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