If you are looking for natural or vaginal birthing options, then cervical effacement and dilation becomes an important factor to look at. In most cases, cervical ripening or thinning happens naturally, and may even begin weeks before the due date. However, in some cases, this may occur just before labor, or may even require medical intervention. Let us find out why is cervical ripening is so important for childbirth, and other related concerns, in this article.
What Is Cervix Ripening & Why Is It Necessary?
Your cervix is closed during the entire pregnancy. As you near your due date, your cervix undergoes changes, and begins to soften and become thinner to prepare for childbirth. This is known as cervical ripening.
In cases where this process does not happen naturally, medical intervention may be required for the procedure. This can happen if your doctor feels that it is in the best interest of the baby and the mother. This usually happens when there are certain health concerns for you or your baby, or you are overdue by more than a week.
When the procedure to soften the cervix is performed, it may not only help you get into natural labor (without medical induction), but, sometimes, it may also shorten the duration of labor, too.
Can You Encourage Cervical Ripening at Home?
Here are some effective ways to soften the cervix at home:
1. Birthing Ball
Rotating, bouncing, or even rocking your hips on a birthing ball can not only help in opening up the cervix, but it may also aid in the dilation of the cervix.
2. Working on Body Alignment
Pregnant women tend to change their posture as their belly grows. Keeping your weight on your ankles, and not stooping or slouching while sitting, can prove to be of great help in opening up the cervix.
3. Keeping Your Feet Parallel
Though most pregnant women stand with their legs apart, keeping your toes in a parallel position while standing may prove to be helpful in separating your sitz bones, and thus opening up your cervix, too.
Walking is a great way to let gravity do its job in opening up your cervix! It is a great exercise, and it helps your baby to gently move down your cervix, and aids dilation, too.
5. Having Sex
Having sex also helps in ripening your cervix, as the prostaglandins in the semen helps in softening the cervix. Also, experiencing an orgasm during sex can further lead to uterine contractions.
These are some natural ways to ripen the cervix for labor. However, it will be a good idea to get in touch with a doctor before trying any of these methods!
Methods Used in a Hospital
The cervix has an important role in the induction of labor, and if it does not soften and ripen naturally, then your doctor may recommend certain methods of doing so medically. Here are some methods used in hospitals for ripening the cervix:
1. Cervical Ripening Drugs
Your doctor may use cervical ripening drugs such as misoprostol cervical ripening drug, or drugs that have prostaglandins, for softening and dilating the cervix. These medicines can either be given orally, or placed directly in your cervix. These drugs may make you 2 to 3 cm dilated and, in some cases, women may also go into labor. The medicines to soften the cervix are usually considered a safe option, and are tolerated well by most women.
2. Mechanical Ripening of Cervix
Mechanical ripening means ripening the cervix forcefully. This procedure requires inserting a Foley catheter with a very small balloon. The Foley with the balloon is inserted in the cervix and then the balloon is inflated slowly. This makes the cervix open up. Sometimes, the cervix is dilated by using the finger, in a process called membrane stripping. The membrane that is attached to the uterine wall is separated using fingers. Though it can be a painful procedure, it works in most cases.
3. The Combination Method
Sometimes the doctor may feel the need to use both the methods simultaneously for cervical ripening. According to some studies, using a combination of both the above-mentioned methods is often considered safe.
Are There Any Risks Associated with Cervical Ripening Procedure?
Cervical ripening is a very common procedure, and often does not lead to any risks. However, sometimes the contractions can come too fast after induction of cervical ripening. In some unlikely cases, where the contractions are for 90 seconds or longer, fetal distress could become a major threat. Under such situations, the doctor may recommend an emergency cesarean delivery.
How to Prepare for Hospital Procedure
In most cases, the procedure is done in an OPD. However, sometimes it may result in labor, and thus it will be a good idea if you pack a bag with your overnight essentials.
On the day of the procedure, you can have a light breakfast that can include toast, juice, or cereal. For lunch, you can make a sandwich, soup, or salad. However, you can take your regular meals after you go back home.
When Should You Call the Doctor?
Here are some conditions that require immediate medical intervention and thus must be reported to the doctor at the earliest:
- In case your amniotic sac or water breaks
- If you notice any excessive increase or decrease in your baby’s movements
- If you experience your contractions for more than 90 seconds
- If you have any kind of vaginal bleeding
- If you experience 3 or more contractions in a span of 10 minutes
Cervical ripening is a natural process, and may sometimes begin several weeks before the actual due date. However, it is completely normal for the cervix to remain closed until you go into labor. In some cases, the doctor may feel the need to conduct a cervical ripening procedure. It will be a good idea to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your cervical ripening.