Your Cervix is Not a Crystal Ball

April 25, 2018

Toward the end of pregnancy, you probably notice that suddenly everyone is very interested in your cervix. Before pregnancy, you might not have really even known (or cared) what a cervix even was. Now you might feel like a Wall Street stockbroker watching the stock ticker! Everyone wants to know the stats: is it dilated? effaced? moving forward? is it changing in any noticeable way?

Deep down the question you (and everyone else) is really wondering is: when will this baby be here!?

What is the cervix anyway?

As far as anatomy goes, the cervix is quite simply the opening from the uterus into the vagina. It spends 9 months of pregnancy having to be REALLY strong and closed. It's job is is to keep baby in, and bacteria out.

As you approach that magic 40 week mark, though, your cervix starts to soften up and open, getting ready to let a baby sized head (and shoulders!) through! This is accomplished thanks to hormones in late pregnancy.

What can the cervix tell us?

Around 36 weeks, your doctor or midwife may or may not start offering vaginal exams, which include a check of the cervix. They will tell you the following information:

  • If your cervix is starting to soften, or still hard and closed.
  • If your cervix is moving from a posterior position (facing the back) to an anterior position (facing forward into the vaginal canal).
  • If your cervix is starting to thin out, or efface, from a thick donut to a thin ring.
  • If your cervix is starting to open up, or dilate, from 0cm to 10cm.

What can't the cervix tell us?

All of the above information is good, and can actually be helpful if you need to make a decision about doing something like an induction, or being admitted to the hospital. However, it's important to keep in mind that the cervix cannot tell you what the future holds. It is giving you data about this exact moment in time, but nothing else.

It's not a magic crystal ball telling you what will happen; it is a reflective glass telling you only what has already happened.

As doulas, we have seen clients go from 0cm, barely thinned out, basically NOTHING happening at a doctor's appointment, to pushing that baby out in under 24 hours! We have also seen clients walk around 3, 4, 5cm dilated for 4-5 weeks. It's not uncommon for it to take hours upon hours upon hours to get to 5-6cm dilated in labor, and then suddenly go from 7cm to 10cm in less than an hour.

All of that just serves as a reminder: if you have your cervix checked, take the info, use it to make the next best decision, and remember that anything can still happen next.