Each pregnancy is unique, making it hard to predict when labor will begin. But if you plan to give birth vaginally, your cervix needs to be 100% effaced and 10 centimeters dilated prior to beginning pushing stage.
As your late pregnancy advances, your cervix thins and shortens in percentage terms until it has effaced completely, which may even trigger contractions similar to Braxton Hicks.
What Does Effacement Mean?
Many pregnant women may not understand what effacement or dilation entails, yet these processes occur during late gestation as your cervix prepares for labor and delivery. You may not even realize this process is taking place until hearing from a healthcare provider during an appointment or while in labor and delivery room.
The cervix serves as the gateway between your uterus and vagina. For optimal birthing conditions, its function must soften, thin out (efface), and open wide (dilate). This process, known as cervical ripening, occurs naturally but takes some time – depending on your gestational stage this could take as many as several weeks!
Once you are 100% effaced, this means your cervix has thinned to near paper-thin thickness – this stage marks the start of labor! Dilation and effacement go hand-in-hand; you cannot achieve 10 centimeter dilation without first going through effacement.
There are ways you can quickly thin and open your cervix. One such method is semen, which contains high levels of the hormone prostaglandin that may help loosening and thinning of your cervix. But before taking this step, please consult your doctor first if close or past due date, since too much sex could cause tension within the uterus that prevents its natural thinning process from taking effect. Additionally, avoid having regular contractions until this timeframe has passed – having too much sex may thinning/thinning/ripening!
Exercise, walking and gentle movement can all help promote effacement and dilation, including getting your blood pumping, relaxing the cervix faster and increasing its thickness. Also try rolling around on a stability ball or pelvic rocking to apply shifting pressure that encourages it to open up more.
Dilation and effacement are natural parts of labor and delivery. Your cervix should begin this process when it is ready for childbirth; however, if it begins prematurely or doesn’t progress at an expected rate it could cause complications during labor and delivery.
If your cervix is having difficulties ripening but you aren’t in labor yet, your OB-GYN may suggest seeing you more frequently or exploring alternative strategies. If early labor symptoms such as contractions that come and go appear, visiting the hospital might be beneficial in monitoring progress and helping prepare you for vaginal birth – the sooner your cervix dilates fully effaced is the sooner pushing can commence!
Effacement is the thinning of the cervix
At the end of your pregnancy, effacement and dilation will become terms you hear often. Both terms refer to changes in the cervix, the thumb-length neck of your uterus which anchors and protects the birth canal from bacteria. While pregnant, your cervix becomes long and thick to keep baby safe until labor starts; once in labor begins however, your cervix goes through changes that allow vaginal birth such as thickening, thinning or shortening to facilitate delivery.
As contractions tighten on your cervix – which resembles the neck of a turtleneck sweater – during labor’s initial stage, your contractions pull on it until it thins and shortens (known as effacement) gradually over several days or hours prior to labor starting. A telltale sign of effacement is the appearance of mucous that occasionally contains bits of blood (known as bloody show), caused by leaking from tiny blood vessels in your cervix as it softens further down into its first stage.
After your cervix has been fully effaced, it’s ready to dilate – another transformation which prepares you for vaginal delivery. Your uterine muscles contract during labor to help the fetus descend into your pelvis while stretching the cervix until it softens and becomes flexible; at its full dilated stage it should measure about the width of a small cantaloupe while feeling as thin as paper.
Your obstetrician or midwife can check your cervix during late gestation using gloved fingers to measure its effacement and dilation. Remember that effacement and dilation happen at different rates for different women; 100% effaced but still undilated may be fine while someone dilated but yet ready for delivery may require another measurement method.
Some women enjoy tracking the progression of their cervix for labor preparation purposes; however, this isn’t necessary. If you want to know how effaced your cervix is before giving birth, discuss it with your OB prior to the due date. Effectivement doesn’t tell your provider exactly when your labor will start, but it may give them clues as to when and how soon your contractions could start. If you are near your due date and exhibit signs that labor may be beginning, such as bleeding heavily or strong and regular contractions that are becoming stronger, closer together and longer than before – get in contact with your OB immediately if this is happening for you! Additionally, having sex can speed things along; though be wary if instructed not to do so by your OB or your water has broken as this could exacerbate things further.
Effacement and Dilation
As women enter labor, many unfamiliar terms become clear only after experiencing it themselves. One such term is effacement. Your healthcare provider might mention it during an appointment or delivery room visit; yet what exactly does it entail? Effacement and dilation must occur simultaneously for successful vaginal birthing to occur.
Your cervix is the long, narrow end of your uterus that opens into your vagina and has traditionally remained closed and firm throughout pregnancy, until late gestation or early labor begins to thin it out (efface). Effacement can be measured in percentage terms until it reaches 100% when your cervix becomes very short and thin.
Cervix effacement, otherwise known as cervical thinning, can be an indistinct term; healthcare providers may use various gauges to assess it. Healthcare providers will likely start checking cervix effacement starting around week 36 of pregnancy and continue monitoring it throughout gestation. As your cervix thins, labor approaches ever closer.
At this stage, it may also become evident that your mucus plug has gone, signaling imminent labor. This layer of thick fluid protects your uterus during gestation and breaks down once labor starts; when this occurs it may leave behind stringy discharge or blood.
Once your cervix is 100% effaced, it’s time to prepare for labor. Your healthcare provider may check for dilation during your pelvic exam with gloved fingers; dilation refers to opening or widening of your cervix and is typically measured in centimeters – for instance 0 centimeter dilated is completely closed while 10 cm dilation would equate to approximately the width of a cantaloupe.
Before it can prepare to give birth, the cervix goes through various stages of dilation. First it thickens, then shortens and thins out before finally ripening to be ready for delivery – this process may happen quickly or take weeks until full effacement and dilation have taken place.
As soon as your cervix reaches transition phase (when two centimeters of dilation have been completed), you’ll enter the second stage and begin pushing. Your healthcare provider will monitor effacement, dilation, and station to see how progress is going. They may advise when it’s time to push.