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What is Cervical Effacement?

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

what exactly is cervical effacement? How can you check for it, and check for dilation yourself? Let’s talk about that a bit.

After months and months of all the hardships and bodily changes that pregnancy brings, your cervix finally begins to efface. This is so exciting! This means that labor is finally almost here, and your body is preparing itself to deliver the little one(s) you’ve been waiting for! But, what exactly is cervical effacement? How can you check for it, and check for dilation yourself? Let’s talk about that a bit.

“what exactly is cervical effacement? How can you check for it, and check for dilation yourself? Let’s talk about that a bit.”

What Is Cervical Effacement?

By this point in the pregnancy, it is likely that you are already rather accustomed to your body making a ton of changes to support the life inside you. When it comes to your baby slowly making their way down the birth canal, your cervix is going to need to go through some changes itself in order to pave the way for that to happen safely for you and the baby. This is the process of cervical effacement, and cervical dilation.

‘Cervical ripening’ is the term used for the entire process of your cervix preparing itself for the baby to pass through the birthing canal. As you probably know, the cervix is the small passageway that separates the uterus and the vagina. In order to allow for the body of the baby to pass through, the cervix needs to thin and open in order to make this all work. The thinning process is what is known as ‘cervical effacement’.

How Does Dilation Differ From Effacement?

It’s highly likely that you have heard quite a bit about dilation from your birthing classes and doctor visits. However, just for a quick summary, we will go over it a bit.

In essence, cervical dilation is the process of the thinned (effaced) cervix widening to allow for the baby to pass through and out of the vagina. This diameter of dilation is what doctors measure in order to check if you are fully ready to pass the baby through. Normally, the cervical dilation will be at 0cm. The labor process actively begins when the cervix has dilated to around 3cm. That diameter of the cervix will continue to expand throughout the labor process until it reaches that perfectly round (pun intended) number of 10cm. Once you hit 10cm, your cervix is fully dilated, and your body is ready to pass your little one on through.

The difference between dilation and effacement is quite simple, despite being a part of the same process. The effacement of the cervix is the active shrinkage or ‘thinning’ of the cervix as the baby begins to push down upon it. In the beginning, your cervix will be about 3-4cm long. That will grow shorter and thinner as the effacement begins. The ‘fully effaced’ phase is when the cervix is exceptionally thin--like paper.

How To Tell If You Are Experiencing Cervical Effacement.

The truth is, you are very unlikely to actually feel or notice your cervical effacement happening. The actual process won’t really trigger any sensations within your body that are noticeably different. Although, there might be a few warning signs that you can look out for that can indicate that it is happening.

Pressure in the pelvic area.

As the baby begins to push down on the cervix, you might feel some pressure from the weight. This can manifest in a bit of discomfort or just a general odd sensation, which can even be painful. This is a sign that effacement might be happening as the baby pushing down starts to trigger the process.

Braxton Hicks/labor contractions.

Contractions in general are thought to be an early indicator that dilation and effacement are beginning. Whether you are experiencing Braxton Hicks (or ‘false’ contractions), or actual labor contractions; this can be an early hint.

The mucus plug.

The cervix is sealed with a mucus ‘plug’ that will eventually fall out once effacement starts. This can be a bit terrifying for some women who are not expecting to see a massive gooey mess in their panties. But don’t worry, it’s 100% normal! Sometimes this is accompanied with some spotting or blood streaking which happens when the capillaries burst around the cervix area. (The spotting/bloody streaks can come separately as well).

How To Check For Dilation Yourself.

Final Thoughts.

So, now that you know how to look out for and identify dilation and effacement, it is important to remember a few things. The first, is that checking for effacement and dilation is not always the #1 priority. Your doctor will be checking these things the closer you get to labor. The second is, if you are planning on trying any ‘induction’ techniques to speed the process along, please consult your doctor before doing so. The days leading up to labor are always an exciting time, it’s important that you remain as patient and safe as possible for a happy and healthy birth!

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