Great explanation from @bumpbabyandco!
This is the process your body takes during dilation.
The cervix needs to open about 10cm for a baby to pass through. This is called ‘fully dilated’. .
Contractions at the start of labour help to soften the cervix so that it gradually opens. The process of softening can sometimes take many hours before you’re in what is called ‘established labour’. .
Established labour is when your cervix has dilated to more than 3cm. If you go into hospital or your birth centre before labour is established, you may be asked if you’d prefer to go home again for a while rather than spending many extra hours in hospital or the birth centre.
Once labour is established, the midwife will check you from time to time to see how you are progressing. In a first labour, the time from the start of established labour to full dilation is usually between 6 and 12 hours (about 8 hours on average) and often will become quicker for subsequent pregnancies.
Your midwife or obstetrician will tell you to try not to push until your cervix is fully open & your baby’s head can be seen. To help you get over the urge to push, try blowing out slowly and gently or, if the urge is too strong, in little puffs. Some people find this easier lying on their side, or on their knees and elbows, to reduce the pressure of the baby’s head on the cervix.
This awesome dilation demo image was via @halk ]