Effacement is a term that you will normally begin to hear during your last trimester. This term is used to describe the way that the cervix begins to prepare itself for delivery. It is indicated by a percentage. If you are 100 percent effaced, then your cervix is extremely thin and you are about to go into labor. If you are 50 percent effaced, it means that you are halfway there.
What Does Effacement Mean?
Cervical effacement is a term that means the ripening or thinning out of the cervix. In non-pregnant women, the cervix is shorter and less thick. The cervix naturally thickens in early pregnancy to protect the baby and keep bacteria out. Before pregnancy, your cervix was probably around three to five centimeters long. Once you reach the last stage of pregnancy, your cervix will start to become shorter and thinner. This process is known as effacement. When the cervix becomes shorter, it can almost seem to disappear into the lower uterus.
As you approach your due date, the baby’s head will drop down. This action causes the uterus to contract. When you are already effaced, the contraction will cause cramping and dilation. Cramping and contractions may feel like active labor, but you are actually having a false labor known as Braxton Hicks contractions. It is a normal part of the labor process and necessary for your body to prepare for labor later on. It may take a few weeks until the cervix has been completely effaced. During a first pregnancy, the cervix may be effaced before it is actually dilated. In future pregnancies, dilation will typically occur before effacement.
As you enter the last weeks of pregnancy, your doctor will look at your cervix to see if it is making any changes for labor. Cervical effacement is used to decide how ready your body is for labor. If you have 0 percent effacement, your cervix has remained completely the same. A 50 percent effacement indicates that your cervix is half of its normal thickness. At 100 percent effacement, your cervix has thinned to a point where it nearly disappears and is just an opening for the uterus for delivery. Once you reach 100 percent effacement, labor will not be far away.
How Do I Know If I Am Effaced?
If this is your first pregnancy, you will most likely not become effaced unless your cervix is dilated. In subsequent pregnancies, the reverse happens. As you reach the end of the pregnancy, your doctor will check for effacement during your routine prenatal visits. He or she may also do an internal exam to check on the extent of dilation. According to your results, your doctor will be able to tell to some degree of accuracy when you are going to deliver.
Keep in mind that being effaced does not mean that you should race to the delivery room right away. How close you are to labor is merely an educated guess about your due date. It is very rare to have the due date be completely accurate, and many women end up giving birth weeks after the estimated due date. Be patient; it will happen.
When you go into labor, the cervix will continue to dilate. You are only ready to give birth when you have gone through the three stages of labor and are dilated to 10 centimeters. It is entirely up to your body to get ready for delivery and time when delivery will happen.
How to Efface the Cervix Naturally
According to the American Pregnancy Association, effacement will only happen completely when the baby is engaged within the mother’s pelvis. Once you reach 100 percent effacement, the cervix will begin to push outward. This process occurs naturally in the body, but some women are medically induced to efface when labor appears to be stalled. Some of the following methods are used by doctors to encourage effacement, but you should only use them under your doctor’s guidance.
Sex during the last trimester can help your cervix to dilate. Sperm contain a chemical known as prostaglandins, which naturally encourage the cervix to thin out. This dilation method is not recommended for any women who have already lost their mucus plug. The mucus plug is responsible for protecting the cervix from infection, so sex without a mucus plug could introduce harmful bacteria into the womb and harm the baby.
Evening Primrose Oil
One natural way to encourage effacement is with evening primrose oil. Often used by midwives, this oil contains prostaglandin like sperm. This chemical helps to ripen the cervix and prepare it for birth. Using evening primrose oil is not recommend for women who have pregnancy complications, vaginal infections or placenta previa. This herbal supplement can be taken orally or rubbed onto the cervix during the last weeks of pregnancy. Capsules can also be placed in the woman’s vagina at bedtime.
Find the Right Position
The baby’s weight is normally the thing that stimulates dilation and effacement. When the baby drops down in preparation for birth, dilation will naturally start to occur. There are positions that you can use to encourage this to happen. Sit on an an exercise ball or with your legs spread apart. You can also get on your hand and knees to help the baby’s weight shift. Walking can also help with dilation. All of these positions help the baby to shift its weight and open up the pelvis.
What Happens After Effacement?
After effacement, your pregnancy will continue to progress with the opening and stretching of the cervix. While the cervix remains fairly normal during pregnancy, it will thin out as pregnancy approaches. Once you reach 0-4 centimeters in dilation, you are considered to be in early labor. Once it reaches 4-7 centimeters in dilation, you are in active labor. When your cervix is at 7-10 centimeters, you are considered to be in the final stage of labor. At 10 centimeters, you are fully dilated and ready to give birth.