Some women have no clues when labour is around the corner, but as your OB-GYNs will tell you, in order to give birth, your cervix first has to begin dilating. The cervix plays a crucial role in pregnancy and labor, as it is supposed to remain closed and hard to protect your uterus from outside bacteria.
It is important for the cervix to stay closed during pregnancy until delivery to not only protect the uterus from bacteria but also to enable you carry the pregnancy till full term, medical experts usually carry out a ‘cerclage’ to keep the cervix closed where it is feared that a woman’s cervix may dilate before her pregnancy reaches full term.
The process of the opening of the cervix is what is called dilation, which is one way that healthcare staff use to track how a woman’s labour is progressing. Dilation is measured in centimetres and occurs simultaneously with cervical effacement, which essentially is the softening or thinning of the cervix in preparation for labour and delivery.
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Below are six signs to help you tell that your cervix is dilating:
The process of your baby settling or lowering into your pelvis just before labour is called ‘lightening’. Lightening can occur a few weeks or a few hours before labour. You may feel the baby drop, or you might notice that there is now space between your breasts and abdomen.
This means you may get some relief from the shortness of breath that you’ve been experiencing, since this shift takes pressure off your diaphragm.
However, the pressure shifts to the bladder since the weight is now on the pelvis and you may find yourself visiting the toilet more times than is convenient.
This change could be a pointer that labour is close and your cervix may start undergoing effacement or thinning.
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The cervix is the narrow neck-like passage forming the lower end of the uterus that opens into the birth canal. Your cervix begins to lose thickness and soften in a process known as effacement or ripening.
By the time your baby’s arrival day comes, your cervix would have stretched paper thin in preparation for the baby’s passage. Effacement is measured in percentages: Zero percent means no effacement; 100 percent means you’re fully effaced.
In the last 2 months of your pregnancy , your doctor or midwife may start checking for gradual effacement with internal exams during your prenatal visits.
Effacement is another sign that your cervix might have begun dilating.
3. Dilation: Opening of the cervix
As your baby’s arrival day draws nearer, your cervix will begin to dilate or open up. The dilation of the pelvis is measured in centimetres (cm) from 0 cm (no dilation) to 10 cm (fully dilated) and is checked by your doctor or midwife during a pelvic examination.
Typically, if you’re 4 cm dilated, you’re in the active stage of labour; if you’re fully dilated, you’re ready to start pushing.
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Your healthcare practitioner will probably check for dilation and keep you abreast of its progress during your last prenatal visits.
4. The Bloody Show:
The bloody show is a thick plug of mucus that basically seals off your cervix to protect your baby and uterus from possible infection.
The discharge can appear as pink, brownish, or slightly bloody in color, with a thick and stringy consistency.
Losing your mucus plug is not the same as your water breaking, so there’s no need to panic. It can happen anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple hours before labor in the form of a discharge that you may pass in a clump into the toilet or in your underwear.
It can happen anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple hours before labour and is a tell-tale sign that labour is approaching.
5. Membrane Rupture: When Your Water Breaks
During pregnancy, your baby is surrounded and cushioned by a fluid-filled membranous sac called the amniotic sac. Typically, at the beginning of or during labour your membranes will rupture, also known as water-breaking.
Not every woman will experience a dramatic gush of amniotic fluid as the movies make us believe. The discharge can be a sudden gush or a constant trickle.
If you notice fluid leaking, you should try to determine if it smells like urine or if it is odorless. If it does not seem to be urine, you should contact your healthcare provider. Your cervix may be actively
6. Consistent Contractions:
When you begin to experience regular uterine contractions, it is the strongest indication that you are in labor and that your cervix may be actively engaged or dilating.
You will usually feel the contractions as strong, rhythmic regular cramps with the tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscles.
These movements open the cervix and help push the baby into the birth canal. True contractions come closer and closer together in a predictable pattern and get steadily stronger.
At this point, you should get in touch with your health practitioner through phone call or set out to the hospital to have yourself checked and prepared for the welcoming your bundle of joy.