The almighty cervix!
I never thought I would be writing a post about the cervix, and yet here we are! Why devote an entire blog post to a single body part? Well, because the cervix is actually incredibly interesting. Especially when it comes to pregnancy and birth. So, if you have been on the hunt for some cervical 101, you have come to the right place. Let's get into it!
What is the cervix?
Let's start with the basics. The cervix sits inside the vagina just before the uterus, and is the entrance to the uterus itself. It is a donut shaped sphincter muscle that is 1-2 inches long, with the ability to open and close.. Of course, the cervix is more complex than just this - there is the ectocervix and endocervix as well as the transformation zone (which I love the sound of) but, for the purpose of this blog, it's most important to understand that the cervix is essentially a passage that connects the vagina to the uterus.
What does the cervix do?
The cervix of a non-pregnant person is responsible for creating discharge which cleans the vagina. It also makes cervical mucus which acts as a medium to support fertilization during sex.
During pregnancy, the cervix grows a mucous plug which sits between the vagina and the uterus, keeping the growing baby safe from unhealthy bacteria or infection. Another important role of the cervix during pregnancy is .... staying closed! Yes, the cervix is responsible for holding the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid inside the body until baby is ready to be born. What a big responsibility!
As the pregnant person gets closer to giving birth, the cervix begins to change.
The cervix begins to move forward. Yep, you heard me! Many people don't know that before labour begins the cervix is positioned high up and facing the back of your body. It isn't until before labour that the cervix begins to move forward and come down.
The cervix begins to soften. As mentioned above, the cervix is responsible for staying closed and keeping the baby in the uterus during the whole pregnancy. While it is keeping baby in place it's quite stiff to the touch. However, as the due date approaches and the cervix begins to ripen, it becomes softer.
The cervix begins to efface. Effacement is the shortening and thinning in preparation for the opening of the birth canal.
The cervix begins to dilate. Dilation is the opening up of the cervix. Dilation is measured in centimetres and is assessed by a vaginal exam.
How long does it take for the cervix to soften, efface and dilate?
Softening, effacement and dilation takes a different amount of time for each individual. For some, this process can happen quite quickly - over a period of a few days. For others it can take from weeks up to a month!
Things to remember about cervical assessment
Cervical assessments are subjective!! What this means is that, should you accept cervical checks leading up to and during labour, each care provider who assess you may provide you with a different number of effacement or dilation.
Doula tip: Try not to become hung up on the numbers and trust that your body and baby are working together as an amazing team to bring baby into the world in their own timing. You've got this!!
Also, you can say no to cervical exams! For some birthing people, cervical exams are not something that they are comfortable with. This is perfectly ok!
Doula Tip: Be sure to have this discussion with your main health care provider and birth support team, including your doula, so that they are well prepared to support the type of birth that is important to you.
This post was written by Ottawa Doula, and Ottawa Prenatal Nutritionist, Julia Davie. Her approach to birth work is heart centered, holistic and inclusive. She is honored to support families in Ottawa, Gatineau, and the surrounding areas.