Cervical effacement is an important process that allows a baby to be born safely, causing minimal harm to both it and its mother. Without it, the process would be far more painful and would often take major surgery to fix, especially if a birth already had certain complications – but what does it actually change?
Effacement covers two different, related changes to a woman’s cervix. The first is the thinning, which involves the cervix itself thinning out and softening up slightly. In the majority of women, it’ll go from over one inch thick (around four centimeters in some cases) to as thin as paper as the birth gets closer. 100% effacement is the point where it’s at its thinnest point, which often signals that labor is very close.
The second point is the dilation. Your cervix has to “open up” to let the baby through, but it can’t do that just before the birth, and it’s a slow process. It’ll start fully-closed, with no gap between each side, and eventually stretch out to around three or four centimeters. This is the point where “active” labor starts, and it’ll continue to stretch out to around 10 centimeters in size – a safe size for most babies to be pushed through without issue.
Does it hurt?
While birth can be a painful procedure, cervical effacement isn’t usually something you’ll feel. However, it can cause certain side-effects that might make you feel uncomfortable, such as a pushing sensation in your pelvis (due to the baby pushing on the thinner areas) or minor contractions. You might also see a small amount of blood and/or mucus on your underwear, which is simply a sign that the cervix is changing and re-shaping itself.
You generally won’t feel the cervix changing, especially not in the early stages, although you might notice a few changes with the way you walk or how comfortable certain sitting and standing positions are. Even then, it’s probably overshadowed by the other sensations and small pains caused by pregnancy, so it won’t be a major issue most of the time.
Can it be checked?
Like most birth-related processes, there are ways for doctors to check its progress and tell you if anything’s wrong. When it comes to the effacement of your cervix, a doctor will need to physically feel it using their gloved fingers, which will let them check how thin and dilated it actually is. You can also check it yourself if you feel comfortable doing so, although it’s much easier if you’re already in labor (at which point checking it doesn’t really matter).
There’s not often a reason to keep a close eye on the effacement process unless you know you have some medical issues relating to it, but it’s worth checking at least once or twice if possible. If it’s started thinning out but hasn’t dilated yet, don’t panic: the effacement usually starts before the dilation, especially if your body hasn’t had experience with birth yet and is undergoing the process for the first time.
If you notice any odd pains or feel like something might be wrong, it’s a good idea to get a doctor to check for you. This is especially true in the earlier stages of effacement and dilation, where it’s harder for you to check your own cervix. You might miss something important or fail to notice an issue that a professional can pick up on, and you’ll want to get rid of as many problems as possible before the actual birth begins.
Can I skip it?
Some people try to speed up the dilation and effacement process to cause labor faster. This isn’t always a great idea, but there’s plenty of claims that it can help a baby arrive on time or ensure that the cervix is prepared faster: things like having sex, exercising your legs and pelvis or trying acupuncture are supposed to help, but be sure you get approval from your doctor before you try anything. Don’t expect a miracle, either.
Most of the time, you should let it play out naturally, since your body is doing it in response to the weight and movement of the baby. Trying to force it should be kept for situations where the dilation isn’t happing properly, or your cervix isn’t thin enough. Even if it doesn’t reach their full thin-ness and dilation, it’s still entirely possible to have a birth with no issues whatsoever, so always get a medical opinion before you try to do anything extreme.