Giving birth is certainly a lovely experience. Most mothers, especially those who have an uncomplicated pregnancy feel the same. However, it is quite normal to have several doubts related to labor and delivery. This is especially relevant to first-time moms who are unaware of the labor and delivery process. Do you know what happens to your cervix during labor or birth?
No need to fret about it, as the body is designed in such a way that it will carry the process of birth naturally and safely. The body of a pregnant woman goes through many changes during pregnancy and labor. The cervix is one of the most significant parts of your anatomy that plays a crucial role in the whole labor and delivery process. Continue reading to know what happens to your cervix during labor and delivery.
In This Article
What Is Cervix?
It is important to know what is cervix in order to understand in a better way about its role and the changes it undergoes during labor and delivery.
Cervix can be described as a tube of tissue, which joins the vagina to the uterus and is commonly called the neck of the uterus. It is made of cartilage with a thick layer of soft tissues surrounding it.
- There is a narrow opening in the center of the cervix called OS
- The part of the cervix that connects with the vagina is called ectocervix
- The part of the cervix that connects with the uterus is called endocervix
- The area between the ectocervix and endocervix is called the transformational zone
How Does The Cervix Change During Pregnancy?
The cervix undergoes many changes during pregnancy. As soon as pregnancy takes place, the OS of the cervix is closed tightly by mucus plug which is a thick gelatinous mass secreted by cervical glands. It completely fills the cervical canal (4 to 5 centimeters long).
This thickening of the cervix is the first change that happens to the cervix during pregnancy. As pregnancy progresses, the position of the cervix changes – it hardens, softens, becomes longer and then shorter, dilates, thins, etc.
What Happens To The Cervix During Labor And Delivery?
This might be one of many questions the pregnant women ask their doctor. Let us help you with this.
- As explained above, the changes in the cervix start during the first week of pregnancy. The cervix remains closed during pregnancy to protect and support the developing fetus and the uterus of the expectant mother.
- After that, the cervix softens and elongates. However, during the last month of pregnancy, the cervix undergoes significant changes, which help to indicate how close the labor is.
- The cervix moves to the front of the vagina. Before the last month of pregnancy, the cervix will be around 4 cm long. However, during the ninth month, the cervix starts to shorten and move from the posterior position to the anterior position, pointing forward.
Changes During Labor and Delivery
As the thinning out progresses, the mucus plug, which blocks the cervical passage during pregnancy, gets loose and passes out through the vagina. Let’s see the cervical changes during labor and delivery:
- Effacing happens. As the baby’s head engages into the pelvis, it presses against the cervix. This is called effacing or the thinning out of the cervix or the cervical canal.
- Effacement is calculated in percentage like 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% respectively for 3cm, 2cm, 1cm and fully effaced. Remember the cervical canal is 4 cm long.
- Dilation happens. Dilation follows the effacement of the cervix, which is nothing but the opening of the cervix that allows the baby’s head to pass through it. During the contractions, the muscle around the cervix contracts. When the contraction stops, the cervix also relaxes but the opening of the cervix continues. As the contraction progresses, the cervix will further open up. This way the cervix goes from fully closed to 10 cm dilation during labor.
- During the early labor, dilation will be around 3 cm. This progress to 7 cm during active labor. And, finally, towards the end of the transitional phase, it will be 8cm. At the time of delivery, the dilation will be 10 cm. It is during this time when the cervix is fully dilated, the baby is pushed out through the cervix and delivery takes place.
What Are Cervical Tears?
Some minor tears of the cervix are common during a vaginal delivery, especially if the mother is delivering her first child. However, cervical tears are more frequently associated with instrumental deliveries like forceps-assisted or vacuum-assisted deliveries.
The main reasons for the cervical tears are:
- Instrumental deliveries through the cervix that fails to dilate fully.
- Delivery after precipitate labor or unusually faster labor
- A cervix that stays rigid, mainly due to previous surgeries like LEEP.
Minor tears resolve on its own without any treatment. However, it is important to fix the major cervical laceration or tears with active bleeding. It is more or less a surgical procedure done in an operation theater under anesthesia.
Complications With The Cervix During Labor
At times there can be some complications or problems with the cervix, like:
- The length of the cervix is usually equal to or greater than 3 cms. If the cervix is less than 3 cms, it can lead to complications such as an incompetent cervix which can cause premature delivery
- During the pre-labor contractions, the cervix becomes short and wide. But if the cervix shortens without contractions, it is called incompetent cervix and can cause premature labor.
- If this happens, doctors opt for a cervical cerclage, where they stitch the cervix to hold it close. This is rare and only 1% of pregnant women undergo this procedure
- In rarest of cases, there are chances that a pregnant woman’s cervix may be stenotic. In this condition, the cervix opening closes tightly and it doesn’t dilate or open in any way. This could be due to numerous reason like any earlier infection, any surgery or just a genetic abnormality
Childbirth is an amazing feeling and achievement, but remember that your body has been through a huge emotional and physical turmoil during pregnancy and delivery. So be kind and nice to your body and give it a lot of time to recover.