Having a baby is exciting, but it's also nerve-racking. Thankfully, toward the end of your pregnancy you'll start to notice signs that labor and delivery is right around the corner. One of those signs is a thinning cervix, which indicates that your uterus is officially preparing for childbirth. So if you're trying to wrap your mind around the fact that you're going to be bringing another human being into the world before you know it, know the signs your cervix is thinning and plan for the immediate future accordingly.
According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), effacement, also known as thinning of the cervix, begins in the final month of pregnancy and is an "indication that the lower portion of the uterus is getting prepared for delivery." The APA also says that while a health care professional can check to see how effaced you are, "you will not have the ability to evaluate your degree of effacement." There are other signs that labor is looming, however, that will also let you know that your body is preparing for childbirth and, as a result, your cervix is thinning.
While it's impossible to know the exact date and time you'll go into labor, you can stay alert and look at the following signs that may subtly let you know that, before you know it, you'll be holding your baby (or babies!) in your arms:
According to Healthline, lightning crotch is a specific pain "caused by the pressure and position of the baby as they descend into the birth canal to get ready for delivery." A few reasons you might experience this feeling, aside from a thinning cervix, includes round ligament pain, baby movement, or mineral deficiencies. You can feel the sharp sensations throughout pregnancy, depending on the cause, but it can intensify as you near labor and delivery.
Losing The Mucus Plug
Healthline defines the mucus plug as "a protective collection of mucus in the cervical canal." The purpose is to seal the birth canal for the duration of a woman's pregnancy, to keep unwanted bacteria and infection away from the uterus. This plug typically stays in place until your cervix thins and you begin to dilate.
Losing your mucus plug doesn't mean you'll have a baby in the next day, though. It's merely another warning sign that your body is preparing for labor And because you can't have cervical thinning and effacement or dilation until the plug comes out, you'll likely lose your plug around the 37-week mark. "Early loss may indicate preterm changes in the cervix and potential risk for preterm labor,” Maureen Whelihan, MD, an OB-GYN at the Center for Sexual Health & Education in Greenacres, Florida, tells The Bump.
Your Water Breaking
Your water — the cushioned bag of amniotic fluid that helps protect your baby in the uterus — won't typically "break" until your cervix has thinned and started dilating. But it is worth noting, according to TrimesterTalk.com, water breaking and cervical thinning have no direct effect on one another.
Cervical exams to check for thinning/effacement can trigger the bag to break, though.
Cervical thinning and dilation go hand-in-hand. As the cervix opens, it dilates and thins out so the baby can progress down the brith canal and make their way into the world. You may or may not experience bloody show which is, as described by What To Expect, "when the capillaries in your cervix begin to rupture, tinting vaginal mucous pink or streaking it with blood." Through early labor, and as your cervix thins, you'll dilate more, starting around 3 cm. By the time you reach active labor it'll hover around 7 cm, and at 10 cm you'll begin the pushing phase.
Because cervical thinning is one of the first signs the onset of labor is about to begin, there may be early, barely noticeable contractions in the uterus that help the cervix thin and open. The Cleveland Clinic says that Braxton Hicks contractions — "false" contractions — won't change the cervix. Instead, regular intervals that increase in frequency and duration will impact dilation and effacement. No matter what stage your cervix is at, the clinic advises calling your doctor or going to the hospital if you think your water has broken, you're bleeding more than spotting, and/or you're experiencing contractions every five minutes, lasting a minute, for an hour.
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