Pregnancy is a unique journey, filled with expectations, worry, and a myriad of physical changes. The late pregnancy stage, around 39 weeks, can be particularly anxiety-ridden for first-time moms.
One common concern among women at this stage is not being dilated at 39 weeks. However, it is important to remember that every woman’s body, and every pregnancy, is unique.
The Process of Cervical Dilation
Cervical dilation refers to the widening of the cervical opening to allow the baby’s passage through the birth canal during labor. In the first stage of labor, the cervix dilates from 0 to 10 centimeters. Active labor generally begins when the cervix has dilated to about 3–4 centimeters and continues until it’s fully dilated to 10 centimeters.
During the final weeks of pregnancy, particularly from 37 weeks onwards, women may start to dilate. This can be a slow process that happens over several weeks, or it could even wait to start after labor begins. Some women might not be dilated at all at their 39-week appointment, and this is not necessarily a cause for concern.
What if You’re Not Dilated at 39 Weeks?
Not being dilated at 39 weeks doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not close to going into labor. Dilation is just one part of the equation. The cervix also needs to be completely effaced (thinned out), and the baby’s head needs to descend into the pelvis.
Your due date is not a precise deadline, but rather a rough estimate. Many first-time moms will go into labor naturally around their due date (approximately 40 weeks) , but it’s also normal to go as far as 41 weeks or even 42 weeks.
Measuring Cervical Dilation
Measuring cervical dilation is a critical part of assessing progress during labor. Your healthcare provider typically gauges dilation during a vaginal examination, measuring the diameter of the cervical opening in centimeters. At 0 cm, the cervix is completely closed, while at 10 cm, the cervix is fully dilated, indicating readiness for the active phase of pushing and birth.
Dilation During The 3 Stages of Labor
There are three stages of labor: early labor, active labor, and transition.
- Early labor (0-3 cm dilation): During the first stage, the cervix dilates from 0 to 3 cm. You might start experiencing contractions, but they are usually mild and spaced out.
- Active labor (4-7 cm dilation): During active labor, the cervix dilates from 4 to 7 cm. Contractions become stronger, more regular, and closer together. This is typically when women go to the hospital or birthing center.
- Transition phase (8-10 cm dilation): The transition is the last part of the first stage of labor, during which the cervix dilates from 8 to 10 cm. Contractions are usually very intense and close together.
The Role of Your OB-GYN or Midwife
Your doctor, OB-GYN, or midwife can play a pivotal role during these uncertain times. Regular check-ups and open communication can help to alleviate worries and provide you with the necessary support.
A membrane sweep is one procedure that can be performed by your healthcare provider to start labor. This involves sweeping a finger around the cervix to separate the amniotic membrane (mucus plug) . If the body is ready, this might trigger contractions.
If the body doesn’t go into labor naturally after 41 weeks, your healthcare provider might consider inducing labor. Scheduled induction may involve using a small dose of medication to start contractions, or other methods to soften and open the cervix.
However, induction is not without risks and is typically reserved for situations where there’s a higher risk to the mother or baby if the pregnancy continues.
Contraction Stress Test
A contraction stress test (CST) is a procedure done in late pregnancy to evaluate how well the baby will cope with the contractions during labor. By monitoring the baby’s heart rate in response to your contractions, doctors can assess if the baby is healthy enough to withstand the stress of labor.
Things To Do While Waiting for an Overdue Baby
While it’s natural to feel anxious when your baby is overdue, try to make the most of this time by relaxing and taking care of yourself.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Continue to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and engage in gentle exercise like walking or prenatal yoga.
- Get organized: Use this time to prepare for the arrival of your baby. This could include setting up the nursery, packing a hospital bag, or preparing meals for after the birth.
- Stay in touch with your healthcare provider: Regular monitoring ensures the well-being of you and your baby. Your healthcare provider may perform tests, like an ultrasound or non-stress test, to check on your baby.
What You Should Know About Due Dates
It’s important to understand that a due date is just an estimate. Only about 5% of babies are born exactly on their due date. It’s completely normal to give birth one to two weeks before or one week after your due date. Moreover, due dates are calculated based on a regular 28-day menstrual cycle, which is not the case for every woman.
If you’ve passed your due date, and there’s no sign of labor, don’t panic. It’s common, especially in first-time pregnancies, for babies to arrive late. Your doctor will continue to monitor you and the baby and discuss options like inducing labor if necessary.
In conclusion, not being dilated at 39 weeks is not unusual and there’s often no need to worry. You and your baby are on your own unique journey. The body will typically go into labor when it’s ready.
However, regular check-ups and communication with your healthcare provider are essential to ensure a safe delivery, whether you are going to deliver vaginally or via a C-section if complications arise.
Is it normal not to be dilated at 39 weeks?
Yes, it is perfectly normal not to be dilated at 39 weeks, especially for first-time mothers. Each pregnancy is unique, and the timing of cervical dilation can significantly vary from woman to woman.
Some women may start to dilate several weeks before labor, while others may not dilate until active labor begins.
What happens when the cervix is not open at 39 weeks?
When the cervix is not open or dilated at 39 weeks, it typically means that your body is still preparing for labor. Labor is a complex process triggered by several physiological factors, and dilation is just one part of it.
If you’re concerned about your cervix not dilating by your due date, discuss it with your healthcare provider. They may monitor your situation more closely and discuss options like inducing labor if necessary.
How quickly can you go from not dilated to labor?
The speed of cervical dilation varies greatly among women and can be influenced by several factors, including whether this is your first baby or not. For some women, dilation can occur slowly over several weeks. For others, it can happen rapidly within a few hours once active labor starts.
Why am I not dilating?
There can be several reasons why you are not dilating. In many cases, it’s simply a matter of your body’s natural timeline – some women dilate slower or later than others. In other instances, factors such as the baby’s position in the pelvis, the strength of contractions, or the physical characteristics of the uterus or cervix itself can affect dilation.
If you’re concerned about not dilating, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation and guidance.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2019). How to Tell When Labor Begins. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/how-to-tell-when-labor-begins
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Signs of labor: Know what to expect. [https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/signs-of-labor/art-20046184](https://www.mayoclinic.org