As your labor draws near, you’ll continually be looking for signs that it’s finally “happening.” As sure as your OB-GYN may be, there’s really no telling exactly when your big day will be (unless you’re being induced, of course). But watching your body for signs is a great way to tell that you’re at least getting closer. You’ll hear the words “effaced” and “dilated” used a lot toward the end of your pregnancy, and it’s useful to know exactly what those terms mean. Once you do, you'll want to learn the signs effacement is starting.
Before you can know whether you’re beginning to efface, it’s important to know the distinction between effacement and dilation. According to the American Pregnancy Association, effacement and dilation are both terms that applies to the way the cervix prepares for labor. Dilation, as the word itself implies, refers to how much your cervix has opened. When you’re pregnant, it's very small, with no dilation. As you go into labor and eventually are ready to deliver, it will open to 10 centimeters, which means you’re “fully dilated."
Effacement, according to the Mayo Clinic, refers to the thinning of your cervix as it opens and is measured in percentages. When you’re not effaced at all you’ll be at zero percent and your cervix will still be very thick. At it’s most effaced, your cervix will be paper thin and at 100 percent. This, combined with full dilation, is when baby is ready to be delivered.
In most cases, effacement begins long before you go into labor. It’s a process that takes different amounts of time for different women. Whether it happens overnight or over a few weeks, knowing the signs that your cervix is effacing can be helpful (and encouraging) as you prepare to give birth.
1. Your Baby Has Dropped
Although not directly related to your cervix, your baby "dropping" is an essential part of late pregnancy that will keep things moving towards labor. According to New Kids Center, as your baby lowers into your pelvis, their head puts pressure on your cervix, slowly causing it to thin and open for labor. If you've noticed the shape of your bump changing, that you can suddenly breathe easier, or that your baby feels lower in your abdomen, they've likely dropped.
2. Your Mucus Plug Is Disappearing
According to the APA, as your cervix thins and dilates, you'll slowly begin to loose your mucus plug, which protects the cervical opening to your uterus. If you've noticed an increase in vaginal discharge or "bloody show," more than likely your mucus plug is hitting the road.
3. Your Cervix Is Dilating
Dilation and effacement generally happen at the same rate. Although your healthcare provider will check your cervix for signs of ripening in the last few weeks of your pregnancy, Babble noted that women can perform a cervix check at home if they're really curious about the state of affairs down there.