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5 Ways Your Cervix Changes During Pregnancy

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Your body is bound to go through more than a few changes during pregnancy. Your waist will expand, you may recognize a pregnancy "glow," and things will swell that should never, ever swell. The internal changes, however, are arguably more drastic. As a fetus grows and changes, a pregnant person's body learns to accommodate. Sometimes you can see and/or feel the results of that accommodation, i.e. morning sickness, heartburn, and constipation. Then there are the ways your cervix changes during pregnancy that might be a tad more subtle, but, nevertheless, just as important. The human body, my friends, is truly a fascinating thing.

Today's Parent describes the cervix as "the narrow neck of the uterus — picture the opening at the bottom of a balloon." The site goes on to explain that the cervix is the part that keeps the uterus closed until you're ready to deliver, preventing anything from getting up into the uterus and/or fallopian tubes. In other words, your cervix acts like a door that keeps your uterus safe and healthy. While your cervix allows for a very small opening — which allows menstrual blood and/or sperm to pass into and/or out of the uterus — the cervix experiences numerous changes throughout the 40 weeks, more or less, of a pregnancy.

When the aforementioned changes occur you'll likely experience the occasional spotting, particularly after sex, because the cervix consists of connective tissue and muscle. So while you can't see your cervix change during pregnancy, sometimes you can see the impact those changes have on your body. So with that in mind, here's what happens to your cervix as you grow another human being inside your very own body:

The General Appearance Changes

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Ronald D. Blatt, M.D., gynecologist and chief surgeon and medical director of the Manhattan Center for Vaginal Surgery, tells Women's Health Magazine that, in the beginning of ovulation, the cervix resembles a donut with a slight dimple when closed. When it reaches the luteal phase, you'll either get your period or become pregnant. Dr. Adelaide Nardone, medical advisor to the Vagisil Women’s Health Center and clinical instructor at the Brown University School of Medicine, tells Babble that "the size of the cervical opening prior to or during pregnancy does not determine if a woman progresses in labor or not." If you have an unusually small cervix, she adds it's "the quality of the contractions, the size of the baby, and the baby’s presentation and station that allow the cervix to dilate."

The Position Shifts

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The cervix can, according to NewKidsCenter.com, rise slightly and become a bit softer as soon as 12 days post-ovulation, but becomes more noticeable at the end of the first trimester. The exact timing and amount of shifting varies from woman to woman, though, and even pregnancy to pregnancy. That softness happens due to additional levels of blood from increased estrogen in the body. It's just one of many steps your body takes to give the fetus the space it needs to grow properly.

The Density Changes

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Your cervix softens, or "ripens," around 12 weeks gestation. When the cervix thickens, it produces more glandular cells to form the mucus plug needed to protect the fetus in utero. In other words, a rush of blood moves down to create the protective barrier that secures everything in place. You'll then lose the mucus plug when your body is preparing for labor and delivery.

Cervical Mucus Changes

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If the word "mucus" makes you cringe, wait until you hear the important role it plays when it comes to maintaining a healthy pregnancy. What begins as a thick, clear substance, eventually turns into the aforementioned mucus plug that protects your baby. If there's a foul odor, strange color, or itching, you should tell your doctor, as you could be experiencing a yeast infection.

Cervical Length Becomes Measurable

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The Mayo Clinic says the length of the cervix can be associated with how ready your body is for impending childbirth. A short cervix, or one that opens too soon, could mean you're at risk for a preterm labor (a labor that occurs before 37 weeks gestation). The March of Dimes explains that your chances for a preterm labor with a short cervix is around 50 percent.

The length of your cervix can be determined through a routine ultrasound. The Mayo Clinic also adds that the length can be affected by "having an over-distended (stretched or enlarged) uterus, problems caused by bleeding during pregnancy or inflammation (irritation) of the uterus, infection, or cervical insufficiency," which is when your cervix opens too early without any warning sign, like contractions or pain.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.