There are a lot of weird things that happen during pregnancy that doctors say are normal. I mean, mucus plugs falling out of your body to signal that a baby is on its way? Weird, but normal. A baby kicking you so hard from the inside that your ribs ache? Also weird and normal. But there are some things that just sound too bizarre to ever be considered OK by a doctor. Like, is it normal for the cervix to "disappear" during pregnancy or is this situation better left for Rod Serling to narrate on an episode of The Twilight Zone?
In order for you to determine if this is normal or not, you need to determine what "disappear" means. "It can have different meanings to an OB," Dr. Seth Plancher, OB-GYN at Garden City OB-GYN in Garden City, New York tells Romper. Has your cervix shortened? Is it shortening? Or has it "disappeared"? Chances are, if you're worried because you think your cervix has disappeared, it's because you've been trying to perform your own cervical checks throughout your pregnancy.
"It is often difficult to check your own cervix — it would depend on anatomy, flexibilty and the size of your body and/or baby. Although it would be generally safe to do, there are times when it would not be a good idea, like if your water has broken," Plancher says. "Also, it can sometimes cause some cervical bleeding, which can be really scary." But Plancher notes that women who do try and check their own cervix may be confused when they can no longer feel it. "It would be extremely difficult to reach at the end of a pregnancy, which is why one might think that it disappeared. In actuality, it is still there, but very far posterior and difficult to reach, even for a health care practitioner."
Naima Black, a doula with Maternity Care Coalition in Philadelphia, tells Romper that your cervix can be referred to as "disappeared" when your cervix is 100 percent effaced and 10 centimeters dilated — when you're ready to start pushing. "This is a good thing and not a concern," Black says. "As a doula, I don’t hear them using this often, but sometimes when there is a thin 'lip' of cervix, meaning either it needs a bit more dilation or effacement or both, a provider may say something along the lines of, 'We just need the cervix to disappear completely before we can start pushing.' A disappearing cervix is often music to a birthing woman's ears."
Some women may claim their cervix is disappearing when it's actually shortening. "A shortening cervix, especially in the second trimester is an entirely different thing," Plancher says. "At the 20 week mark, the cervix is often measured with an ultrasound machine. If the length is shorter than expected, the cervical length measurements are often repeated weekly. If the cervix continues to shorten (disappearing), then several interventions might occur including bed rest, medications and/or a cervical cerclage."
Your cervix dilating and shortening are two different things. Plancher notes that shortening is referring to the overall length of your cervix while dilating is measuring the distance from side to side of your cervix. Either way, both have been referred to as "disappearing" or could be insinuated in that term.
So here's the deal. Is it normal? It depends on what you mean by disappearing. If you're performing your own cervical checks and simply not able to find your cervix, that doesn't mean it's gone — it may just be out of your reach. If your doctor says your cervix is shortening or disappearing in labor, then they can follow up with whether or not this is normal. But if you're nervous about your incredible disappearing cervix (that's some carnival act), see your healthcare provider to make sure everything's OK.