Having a baby is exciting, but it's also nerve-racking. Thankfully, toward the end of your pregnancy, you'll start to notice signs that labor and delivery are right around the corner. One of those signs is a thinning cervix, which indicates that your uterus is officially preparing for childbirth. So if you're trying to wrap your mind around the fact that you're going to be bringing another human being into the world before you know it, know the signs your cervix is thinning and plan for the immediate future accordingly.
Effacement, also known as thinning of the cervix, begins in the final month of pregnancy and means your cervix is preparing an exit route for baby to make a grand appearance, according to What to Expect. “During a normal labor process, the early stages of cervical thinning and dilation can be a slow, gradual process, especially for first time moms,” says Dr. Nita Landry, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN and co-host of The Doctors. There are other signs that labor is looming, however, that will also let you know that your body is preparing for childbirth and, as a result, your cervix is thinning.
Landry says the only way for a woman to know exactly what her cervix is doing is for a health care provider to perform a cervical exam. “While you can definitely look out for signs of labor, remember that no one knows exactly what triggers labor,” says Landry. “Every person will have a unique labor experience.”While it's impossible to know the exact date and time you'll go into labor, you can stay alert and look at the following signs that may subtly let you know that you'll be holding your baby (or babies!) in your arms soon.
Cervical thinning and dilation go hand-in-hand. As the cervix opens, it dilates and thins out so the baby can progress down the birth canal and make their way into the world. You may or may not experience bloody show which is, as described by What To Expect, when "capillaries in your cervix begin to rupture, tinting the vaginal mucus pink or streaking it with blood." Through early labor, and as your cervix thins, you'll dilate more, starting around 3 centimeters. By the time you reach active labor, it'll hover around 7 centimeters, and at 10 centimeters you'll begin the pushing phase.
Because cervical thinning is one of the first signs that the onset of labor is about to begin, there may be early, barely noticeable contractions in the uterus that help the cervix thin and open. The Cleveland Clinic noted that Braxton Hicks contractions — "false" contractions — won't change the cervix.
“Irregular Braxton Hicks contractions can be felt periodically throughout pregnancy, but a pattern of contractions approximately five to 10 minutes apart that increase in frequency and intensity are more likely to be labor contractions associated with a changing cervix,” says Dr. Maureen Grundy, M.D., OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Perinatal Center at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. It’s the regular intervals that increase in frequency and duration that will impact dilation and effacement. No matter what stage your cervix is at, the clinic advises calling your doctor or going to the hospital if you think your water has broken, you're bleeding more than spotting, and/or you're experiencing contractions every five minutes, lasting a minute, for an hour.
Dr. Nita Landry, M.D., board- certified OB-GYN and co-host of The Doctors
Dr. Maureen Grundy, M.D., OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Perinatal Center at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center
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