As you near the end of your pregnancy it's time to prepare for your little one's arrival. Your body is preparing for baby's entrance into this world, too, and in order to do so it's got to get a couple things in order. One of the major milestones that doctors look for during those third trimester checkups is whether you're "effaced". And no, this term doesn't have to do with the expression you make every time some rando asks if you're having twins. If you're scratching your head, wondering, "What does effaced mean in pregnancy?" look no further. Experts have the answer every soon-to-be mom should know as she prepares for the highs and lows of labor and delivery.
The American Pregnancy Association (APA) defines effacement as, "the process by which the cervix prepares for delivery." Effacement, as the APA points out, is also referred to as "cervical thinning" (or the shudder-inducing term, "ripening".) According to the Mayo Clinic's website, before labor, your cervix is typically 3.4 cm to 4 cm long. But as labor begins, your cervix softens, shortens, and thins, and that, my friends, is called effacement. Effacement could be accompanied by mild contractions, or none at all, so you might not know you're effaced without the help of an OB-GYN and/or midwife.
Cervical thinning tends to happen as you get closer to labor and delivery, and. as the site What to Expect points out, the length of time it takes varies from person to person. For some women, effacement is a gradual process that can take from a few weeks to a month. For others, however, dilation (also known as opening of the cervix) and effacement can occur overnight.
Cervical dilation should not be confused with effacement. Dilation refers to the opening of the cervix, whereas effacement refers to the thinning of the cervix. Both processes help prepare the cervix for delivering a baby through the birth canal, and are two clues that doctors look for that signal labor and delivery are around the corner. Dilation, as The Mayo Clinic's website states, is measured in centimeters, with zero being no dilation to 10 being fully dilated. When you reach active labor, The Mayo Clinic points out, dilation can happen very quickly.
While dilation is measured in centimeters, effacement is measured in percentages. The higher percentage of effacement you are presenting, the more thinned out your cervix is. So, as the APA explains, 100 percent effacement would mean your cervix is "paper thin" and that labor will probably be happening imminently. In order for delivery to occur, your cervix must be 100 percent effaced, according to the Mayo Clinic's website.
In cases of preterm labor (i.e. labor that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy), effacement may occur earlier. The site for The American College of Gynecology (ACOG) explains that regular contractions of the uterus can result in changes in the cervix, expressed as effacement and dilation. As ACOG notes, these changes in your cervix can only be diagnosed by your health care provider via a pelvic exam. If you are experiencing contractions or other symptoms of early labor, such as a constant and dull backache, abdominal cramps, increased discharge, or if your water breaks, contact your provider for a pelvic exam and/or to discuss any potential treatment options that can potentially stall labor until it's time for you to bring that beautiful baby into the world.
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