In your final days of pregnancy, your health care provider might also tell you that your cervix is beginning to open (dilate), another sign that labor is getting closer. With a first pregnancy, effacement usually begins before dilation. With subsequent pregnancies, the opposite is generally true.
Dilation is measured in centimeters, with the cervix opening from 0 to 10 centimeters (4 inches) during the course of labor. Your health care provider estimates how far dilated you are by feeling the opening of your cervix during a pelvic exam. Thinning, softening and dilation of the cervix may precede other signs of labor, such as contractions.
What does labor feel like?
What do contractions (labor pains) feel like? Except for perhaps menstrual cramps, the sensation may be unlike any other you've experienced. That's because you're not accustomed to feeling your uterine muscles contracting.
In true labor, the contraction usually begins high in the uterus and radiates down the abdomen and into the lower back. The pain may be felt in the lower abdomen, lower back, hips or upper thighs. The sensation has been described as an aching feeling, pressure, fullness, cramping and backache.
Women respond to the pain of labor in different ways. For some, contractions may seem like strong menstrual cramps. For others, the pain may be stronger and difficult to bear. How will you handle the pain? How bad will it be? How will you cope?
The pain of childbirth may end up being easier or harder than you imagined. The best way to prepare for either outcome is to take childbirth classes so that you have realistic expectations of labor and delivery.
Don't let fear add to your pain. Remember that contractions have a positive purpose, which is to help you deliver your baby. The pain won't last forever; it has a definite time limit. And pain relief options are available, one or more of which many women choose as part of their birth plans.
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