Updated: Aug 8, 2019
I have talked to several women who honestly have no idea what the cervix is/does, what dilation is or how that is different from effacement. So, here I am to tell you. I know reading about the cervix sounds like an uncomfortable topic, but once you have a baby, you will most likely be less embarrassed about these kind of topics.
The cervix is essentially a part of the uterus. It connects the uterus to the birth canal and during pregnancy, it helps protect baby from the outside (this is where the mucus plug comes in- different topic for a different day).
When in natural (vaginal) labor, the cervix must DILATE from 0-10 cm. Starting at about 36 weeks, most women are offered by their medical care provider to have a cervical check to see if there are showing progress on dilation and/or effacement. Dilation is the act of the cervix opening for the baby to pass through the birth canal. When your uterus contracts, it opens up the cervix/dilates it more and more (we call this: labor). For first time moms, this can be a very long process since this is the first time your body is giving birth to a baby. At 36-40 weeks, it is common for women to be at 1-3 cm for weeks before actually going into labor. This just means your body is getting ready for the real deal!
Not only does the cervix need to dilate, it needs to soften, get shorter & become thinner (effacement). This will also be checked during a cervical check by your medical care provider starting anywhere between 36-40 weeks. You might hear phrases from your medical care provider like you are 50% effaced, which just means that you are half way to being completely effaced. You do not have to be 100% effaced before going into labor, but if you are, that is a good sign labor is right around the corner. If you have had previous children, your cervix will usually dilate before effacement.
One demonstration that I will never forgetting when trying to explain a cervix ripening/getting soft is the difference between the tip of your nose and your earlobe. The tip of your nose is hard and not flexible (0% effaced). The earlobe is soft & pliable (100% effaced)
If you have any further questions, please comment below!
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