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What Does It Mean To Have A Soft Cervix? Experts Explain

No, you’re not in labor (yet).

by Elizabeth Helen Spencer
Originally Published: 

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. And you’re surely ready to part with the great physical discomfort of the third trimester of 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?

What does it mean if your cervix is soft?

“As a pregnant woman approaches her due date, the cervix starts to undergo some changes to prepare for a vaginal delivery,” says Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, an OB-GYN with Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center. “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 can be the first sign, meaning there is more to come before your baby is actually ready to come out. However, “it does not predict when a pregnant person might go into labor, the rate of their labor, or the route of their delivery.” says Joya Johnson, an OB-GYN, Spectrum Health West Michigan. “If a pregnant person undergoes induction of labor, it does guide providers in their selection if induction method.”

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What is a soft cervix?

If you’re 38 weeks along and eager for any sign that labor is near, we get it. But hoping to hear that your cervix is soft may be a somewhat useless endeavor. Why? Because the word ‘soft’ is a “very subjective description of the cervix, explains Dr. Mary O'Toole, an OB-GYN. “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.”

Your cervix in early pregnancy

The cervix changes throughout pregnancy, not just at the end, O'Toole explains. "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.

“If a pregnant person is told that their cervix is soft, it’s simply a description of the consistency of their cervix,” Johnson explains. “Providers use three descriptors to characterize the consistency of the cervix: soft, medium, and firm.” If you are concerned about what your health care provider has told you about your cervix, you should certainly ask them for more information about what the consistency of your cervix may mean for your labor and delivery experience.

Here’s why doctors check your cervix in the third trimester

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“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,” explains Dr. Yen Tran, an OB-GYN with Memorial Care Medical Group. “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.”

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.


Dr. Mary O'Toole, an OB-GYN

Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, an OB-GYN with Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center

Dr. Yen Tran, an OB-GYN with Memorial Care Medical Group

Joya Johnson, an OB-GYN, Spectrum Health West Michigan

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