As your due date approaches, there are lots of reasons to be eager to say goodbye to pregnancy and hello to your new baby. You've assembled the crib, washed and folded the onesies, and stockpiled your freezer with food for the first week. Not to mention the great physical discomfort of late third trimester pregnancy. Now at your weekly check-ups, you're eager for signs that labor is imminent. Your OB may even have told you that your cervix is soft, which sounds encouraging, but a little vague. So what does it mean if your cervix is soft? It sounds like labor is soon, right?
Over email, Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, an OB-GYN with Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, confirms to Romper that "as a pregnant woman approaches her due date, the cervix starts to undergo some changes to prepare for a vaginal delivery. We use the term softening of the cervix as the first sign the body is readying itself for a delivery." Note that a soft cervix is the first sign, meaning there is more to come before your baby is actually ready to come out. How long that will take is the big mystery every woman faces at the end of her pregnancy. (I know, I'm sorry.)
Dr. Mary O'Toole, an OB-GYN with Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, emphasizes that using the word 'soft' is a "very subjective description of the cervix." She tells Romper that "usually as the woman’s pregnancy progresses, there will be changes that occur, and one of them is softening; others are dilation and thinning or effacement." O'Toole agrees with Ruiz that "softening is a term that may suggest the cervix is more ready and may also suggest labor will occur soon." Furthermore, O'Toole explains that the cervix changes throughout pregnancy, not just at the end. "Usually the cervix is firm in the early part of pregnancy and due to the pressure of the baby and the changes in hormones and uterine contractions, there will be a softening of the cervix," she adds.
Finally, Romper spoke with Dr. Yen Tran, an OB-GYN with Memorial Care Medical Group, who understands how anxious to deliver women can become. She elaborates on why doctors look for changes in the cervix:
"When we examine a patient's cervix, in addition to dilation measurement (from close to 10 centimeters), we also look for effacement, the position of the cervix (anterior, posterior, and midline), and the consistency and station of the fetal head in relation to the maternal pelvic bone. When we tell a patient that her cervix is soft, we are trying to reassure her that she has good Bishop scores and that she has a good chance of delivering vaginally soon."
According to Tran, a Bishop’s Score is also called the Cervix Score, and is a pre-labor scoring system that assists the physician in predicting if induction of labor is required. It also assesses if preterm delivery may be spontaneous. Luckily, Tran notes that if a pregnant woman has to be induced for any reason, "it won't take much to ripen her cervix since it's no longer hard. Most hard cervixes feel like a knuckle. A soft cervix feels like touching someone's lips."
At the end of my first pregnancy, I, too, was desperate for relief from the discomfort and excited to meet my baby. I remember asking my midwife about my cervix, hoping to hear that it had started to dilate, or was soft — all the signs of labor I'd read about in my pregnancy books. However, she explained that while my cervix did look like it was getting ready, she couldn't tell me when I'd actually go into labor. I ended up waiting about another week. When you can't sleep well and you have to pee every 15 minutes, those last days of pregnancy can feel like forever. But remember, it's only a very small percentage of your overall life. A soft cervix is a good sign, and sooner or later, labor will follow. It just may not be as soon as you hope.
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