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Dilation - from whoa to go

Halloween pumpkins showing dilation of the cervix

These Halloween dilation pumpkins were carved by the midwives at the Royal Oldham Hospital in Lancashire, England. And while they might look cute. Or funny. Depending on where you're at in your life, you might find them downright scary. But if you ask me - I think they look AMAZING.

Because when you really stop to think about it, it truly is amazing that the human body - specifically the cervix - can change so much to facilitate the arrival of a little bundle of joy!

Sure, that last pumpkin at the end looks scary just by itself but it's not that bad when you know it's the last of a number of pumpkins that came before it. The time it takes to get from 1cm to 10cm isn't linear, and depends on so many different factors. You might think the faster, the better, but you'd probably want to have a chat with my friend who went into labour and on arriving at the hospital was told that it would still be a while before the baby was born and offered her some pain relief in the meantime. She had the baby 15minutes later. The pain relief hadn't even kicked in and her baby girl had arrived! So maybe faster isn't better... Likewise the thought of hours and hours, or even days of labour doesn't exactly appeal either, does it?

SIDE BAR: Vaginal examinations, to determine how dilated your cervix is, are fine if you want to know how dilated your cervix is while you're being examined. Dilation doesn't follow a linear path. And the speed of dilation is different for everyone. Maybe have a think about whether you actually want to know that information before agreeing to one. Or if you don't mind, maybe consider who shares this information (and how, and when) with you.

So what's going on then? The uterus is made up of 3 layers of (long muscular fibres going down the length of uterus, the middle layers interwoven with blood vessels and the inner circular layers mostly at the bottom part of the uterus) and when labour starts, the uterus starts contracting - the long outer layers start "pulling up" the inner circular ones. This is the cervix dilating. And once the cervix is fully dilated, the baby can start moving down the birth path and out into the world.

In HypnoBirthing we learn about the different ways we can work with the body to maximise this process:

  • breathing and visualisation

  • positioning and movement

  • creating more oxytocin

Breathing and visualisation

There are 3 different kinds of breath we learn in HypnoBirthing and one of them is called the Surge Breath. We use this breath during a contraction, or surge, and it's a deep slow breath in and out through the nose while at the same time visualising the tummy as a balloon, filling with air. If you're familiar with diaphragmatic breathing then this will be easy. The idea is to fill the lungs from the bottom, pushing your tummy out (filling up that balloon) as you inhale and then slowly releasing the breath and releasing the inflated balloon as you exhale. VERY IMPORTANT: at no point should you be holding your breath, so once you get to max inhalation, you start exhaling! And you simply do as many of these breaths for as long as the surge lasts for. When it's over, you can return to your Calm Breath. The way this helps with dilation is that we're essentially using the breath to help the long outer muscle fibres pull up the inner layers.

Positioning and movement

You can use baby's weight (usually their head) and gravity to your advantage here - by maintaining an upright position baby's head can press against the cervix and this pressure can also help the cervix open up. You can be sitting or standing or squatting or even on your hands and knees or leaning over a birthing ball or back of the hospital bed.

If you're feeling up to it, swaying or dancing or simply moving your hips in circles or figure 8s is a comforting way to move through the surges while keeping upright and working with gravity.


The love hormone is responsible for keeping the surges going and if you're feeling scared or stressed, your body will likely have gone into "fight or fight" mode and won't be producing more oxytocin. This can result in labour slowing down or even appearing to stop and many care providers might be concerned and offer drugs to augment (or restart) labour. Try hugs! Hugs before drugs is a great way to try something natural before turning to medical intervention. Other relaxation techniques, like light touch massage and visualisations can help too. Even laughter is great - it moves the thrust of the breath down - the same direction we want baby moving in! Check out my post Instagram post about how to stay calm and relaxed.

There are so many helpful techniques covered in the HypnoBirthing course - from breath, to massage, to positions to labour and birth in, as well as ways to start labour and keep yourself in a positive frame of mind. There are things I still use even though I'm not even pregnant anymore - HypnoBirthing is for life!!

If you want to know more about what's covered in the course - check out this page, or drop me a line and we can have a chat!

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