What is cervical effacement and when does it occur?

Cervical effacement and dilation of the cervix are two processes that make vaginal delivery possible and indicate how far labor has progressed.

Last update: June 09, 2021

During labor, among many other processes there are two that are especially important: dilation of the cervix and cervical effacement. The first is an expansion to allow the baby to pass through the vagina. The second helps the baby move into the birth canal.

The cervix is ​​a flexible cylinder-shaped band that connects the uterus and vagina. For there to be a vaginal delivery the cervix needs to be gradually shortened to make way for the baby. This is cervical effacement.

Cervical effacement is also a valuable indicator of progress in labor. Typically, effacement occurs first in first-time women and then dilation. In multiparas, both processes occur simultaneously.

Symptoms of cervical effacement

Cervical effacement involves shortening the cervix to make way for the baby.

There are no clear and differentiated sensations of either cervical dilation or effacement. However, there are some symptoms that indicate the beginning of labor and that warn of dilation and effacement.

These symptoms are as follows:

  • The contractions. If they are regular and prolonged, it means that the cervical effacement is already underway.
  • Bleeding. It is the most characteristic symptom. It is due to the rupture of the capillary blood vessels in the cervix.
  • Expulsion of the mucous plug. This is a natural plug that keeps the cervix closed. It is a thick, gelatinous substance with a yellowish white color. Sometimes it may be stained with blood, but this is not abnormal.
  • Pelvic pain. It feels like mild pressure, but it only occurs in rare cases.

Cervical effacement can occur prematurely, at the appropriate time or with a certain delay. Therefore, it is important to watch for symptoms, particularly in the last trimester of pregnancy.

Phases and evolution of cervical effacement

As already noted, cervical effacement is a process of thinning of the cervix. Progress is measured in percentages and begins towards the end of the pregnancy term. under normal conditions.

Slowly, the cervix begins to soften and shorten until it is unnoticeable. During the last weeks of pregnancy, the doctor usually examines the mother to establish how far the cervical effacement process has progressed.

Thus, the doctor will say that there is an effacement of 30%, 70% or the corresponding percentage. When it is at 90%, delivery is close and at 100% it is considered very close. In gilts, dilation begins at that point. In multiparous women, both processes advance simultaneously.

Also read: 7 techniques to facilitate the birthing process

How can it be measured?

As already explained, cervical effacement is measured in percentages ranging from zero to 100. When it is at 0%, the cervix measures about 2 cm. If it has been erased 50%, it will be about the thickness of a glass jar. At 100% it will be like a sheet of paper.

To measure the progress of cervical effacement, doctors do a vaginal palpation. This allows them to estimate the percentage of erasure. Typically, the process begins about 72 hours before delivery.

Can it be measured at home?

Many mothers wonder if it is possible to measure the progress of cervical effacement at home. This is possible, but not very advisable. Although it can be done, you must have expertise and knowledge, since it is easy to fall into an error of interpretation.

If you decide to do it anyway, you need to complete the following steps:

  • Wash your hands very well.
  • Insert the index and middle fingers into the vagina, slowly and taking care not to transfer bacteria from the anus.
  • Upon reaching the end of the vaginal canal, palpate the texture and thickness of the cervix.

If the cervix is ​​perceived to be thick and hard, it is likely not effaced. If it feels soft and thin, it means that the birthing process is progressing. Although it is not a complex procedure, it is always better to have it done by the specialist.

Relationship between cervical effacement and dilation

Dilation and effacement of the cervix are two closely related concepts.

Cervical effacement and dilation are two processes that are closely related. The first has to do with the shortening or thinning of the cervix. The second, with the opening of the cervix.

During pregnancy, the cervix can be several centimeters long. When the time of delivery approaches, the mother's body produces prostaglandins and they cause the cervix to start to contract. In the end, it looks very short and slim.

Dilation, meanwhile, allows the cervix to expand so that the baby passes more easily through the birth canal. When it reaches 10 centimeters, it is estimated that the mother is about to give birth.

How long does it take to be completely erased?

Typically, cervical effacement begins during the last weeks of pregnancy.. There is no set time for the duration of the process that goes from 0 to 100%. It may last several days or even weeks before labor begins.

It is also possible that there is no effacement or dilation and labor still begins. However, the most common is that the highest percentage of effacement occurs in the early stage of labor.

Typically, this takes between 14 and 20 hours for a new mother. Of course, there are big differences between one mother and another. Either way, birth only occurs until 100% is complete and dilation reaches 10 centimeters.

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Cervical effacement indicates labor is approaching

As we have seen, cervical effacement alone is not an indicator that labor will occur in the next few hours. Only when there are contractions every five minutes and that last 45 to 60 seconds is it known that delivery is near.

The best thing for the mother is to remain attentive to the most relevant symptoms. Thinking in measures and percentages sometimes just serves to introduce a factor of concern, unnecessarily.

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