The cervix is a tunnel like passageway that leads from the vaginal canal into the uterus. Before pregnancy this canal is open and allows the lining of the uterus to pass during menstruation, it also produces cervical mucus which aids in safe union of sperm with egg.
Once pregnant, the cervix is blocked off by a mucous plug to prevent infection from reaching the baby or babies inside.During the final weeks of pregnancy, this mucous plug may begin to loosen slowly or fall out all at once as a result of cervical dilation. While the loss of a mucous plug does indicate cervix dilation, it does not necessarily mean labor is imminent. Some women lose their mucous plugs weeks before their labor, others hours before.
Dilation is the process in which the cervix thins and opens to allow your baby to be born. Active labor will begin when your cervix has reached 10 cm dilated and is 100 percent effaced or thinned. Many women begin to dilate before their labor by sometime, even weeks. Labor is not considered “begun” until the cervix is dilated to at least 4 cm.
Regardless, most prenatal care providers will begin checking your cervix for dilation at about 36 weeks to try to get a slightly less rough estimate of delivery time than the due date offers. If you wish to check your cervix yourself, perhaps in between appointments to chart your progress, or to avoid going to the hospital too early to help avoid a c-section, this guide on how to check your cervix for dilation should be of help.
Locating the Cervix:
The first step in checking for dilation in your cervix is to understand where and what the cervix is.
If you feel to the very back of your vagina, (comfortable positions will be covered in the next step) and you are early in pregnancy or not pregnant and have never had a baby before, you will fill a small dimple similar to the top of your nose. This is your cervix. If you have had a baby before your cervix may feel closer to a chin or puckered lips as pregnancy forever changes the cervix. Your cervix may also feel this way if you are later in pregnancy and it has begun to dilate.
Also, note that the cervix does move. For instance, before pregnancy your cervix will rise higher and become softer when you are fertile, it will be lower and open during menstruation, and low and closed any other time. During pregnancy most women find their cervix is high and posterior or pointing away from the birth canal until later in pregnancy as it moves forward, or anterior, pointing into the birth canal and sometimes becomes lower. Some feel the movement of the cervix from posterior to anterior is an indication of labor soon to come. However, while it is true as labor begins, the cervix will usually be in anterior position, the cervix can move at any time before labor begins.
Preparing to Check Your Cervix:
The very first step in preparing to check your own cervix is to wash your hands thoroughly to avoid introducing bacteria, which could lead to infection. If your nails have any length you may want to wear latex gloves to reduce the chance of scratching yourself internally. Trimmer nails are more ideal.
You’ll want a comfortable, warm and private location where you can either lie down or squat. Most women find using a water-based lubricant such as KY Jelly makes the process more comfortable. If you opt for this, have it on hand. Some women suggest the shower may be the ideal location as you are already clean and lubricated to a point.
If you like, while checking for dilation you can do a visual check as well. To do so, you will also need a speculum (usually purchasable from pharmacies or online), a flash light and a mirror. This is not necessary as visual checks are more to check for disease or infection. If you are trying to determine if you are pregnant by checking your cervix, the cervix will also appear a blue or purple color in about 50 percent of pregnant women.
To check your cervix for dilation, find a position that is comfortable for you. If you are doing a dilation and visual check choose a location where you can prop yourself slightly using pillows or bedding and lie on your back. Those doing a simple dilation check will likely find it easier to place one foot on a toilet or shower edge and squat slightly. You can even find instructions for this method on tampon instruction booklets as it opens the vaginal canal and makes it easily accessible.
If you are only checking for dilation, simply insert two lubricated fingers into the vaginal canal and find the cervix. If you feel an opening in the cervix, this means dilation has occurred. Every finger that can be fit inside is one cm dilation. For example, if you can fit two fingers inside even stretching a bit, you are around 2 cm dilated. Inside this opening, you may feel a latex like sack, this is your bag of waters which the baby sits within. You may even feel the hard top of your babies head within this sack. If you feel simply the babies head, this means your bag of waters has ruptured, seek medical attention immediately.
To perform a visual check follow the instructions in this link: http://www.fwhc.org/health/selfcare.htm
What is and isn’t normal is also covered. As a visual check doesn’t do anything extra in regards to knowing how dilated your cervix is, in-depth instructions will not be covered here.
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