During pregnancy, you do everything you can to help with your baby’s development.
Once you reach 37 weeks, or close to your estimated due date, you might stop being so patient.
You might really be ready to have your baby and you want to know what you can do to get labor underway.
Before labor can happen, your cervix needs to soften and ripen. How can you help this process? Perhaps you’re wondering, ‘How can I soften my cervix?’ or ‘What if my cervix doesn’t do what it’s meant to?’
Let’s find out more about the importance of cervical ripening.
How does cervical ripening occur?
During pregnancy, your cervix is tightly closed and needs to soften up and open to allow your baby to enter the birth canal.
In your first pregnancy, ripening of the cervix must happen before active labor begins. Active labor is the regular, long, strong contractions that act on the cervix, dilating or opening it.
In any future pregnancies, cervical ripening and dilation can happen at the same time.
Your cervix is a very long, firm, tightly closed muscle at the end of your uterus (it’s actually part of the uterus) that hangs down into the vagina.
During pregnancy, the cervix is situated towards the back wall of your vagina. It will soften, shorten and come forward before your baby is born.
The hormones estrogen, progesterone, relaxin, and prostaglandins are responsible for softening the cervix.
The hormone oxytocin is responsible for promoting uterine contractions that help to shorten and also dilate the cervix.
How can you tell if your cervix is open or closed?
Now you know a bit more about cervical ripening, you might be wondering whether it’s possible for you to know how your cervix is doing?
When your mucus plug makes an appearance – either in your underwear or when you wipe after using the toilet – it’s an indication that ripening of the cervix has started.
As your cervix softens, the tight pressure is released and the mucus plug comes out. Seeing it is a definite sign of softening of the cervix.
If you don’t see the mucus plug, however, it doesn’t mean cervical ripening isn’t happening.
If you’ve experienced irregular contractions, which are stronger than average Braxton Hicks, or period-like cramps, it’s very likely your cervix has begun the process of softening and ripening.
You can check for yourself. Having more intense contractions and seeing the mucus plug are signs of cervical ripening, but the only way to know the exact status of your cervix is either by looking at it, or touching it.
To view your cervix, your midwife or doctor uses specific tools. Even with these, at the end of pregnancy, it’s not always possible to see the cervix as it tends to be towards the back of the upper vagina.
Feeling the cervix is the easiest way to know what it’s doing.
You can do this yourself, at home:
- First, wash your hands with soapy water.
- Sit on the toilet, or stand with one foot on a high stool so the knee is flexed about 90 degrees, to work around your full-term belly.
- Insert the index and middle fingers into your vagina and follow the back or posterior wall, the part of the vagina closer to your rectum.
- When you reach the highest part, keep searching towards the back. You’re looking for a little spout with a small opening. That little circle you feel is your cervix.
When the cervix is pointing toward the back or very posterior, it’s sometimes difficult for an experienced healthcare provider to reach it. So don’t worry if you can’t reach it; this doesn’t actually mean much.
You can ask your partner to help you if you think it will be easier for another person to do it.
If you have any suspicions that your waters have broken you should refrain from introducing anything at all in your vagina.
How do I soften my cervix at home?
Now you know hormones are responsible for the ripening of the cervix, let’s look at some natural ways you can help your body get that oxytocin and other hormones going!
It’s possible to encourage this process but just remember, you can’t force it along. Your body and baby are working together to get ready for your baby’s birth date.
Can orgasm induce labor?
Every human’s biological role is the continuity of the species. To achieve this task, Mother Nature has made sure sex makes us feel good on many different levels.
Oxytocin is called the love hormone and it flows in our bodies in all situations where love is present or we feel good. When you have sex, breastfeed, even enjoy a meal or laugh with friends, the release of oxytocin is responsible for this wonderful feeling.
You can read more in Oxytocin – 15 Fascinating Facts About The Love Hormone.
Sex during pregnancy is great and it can help your cervix to ripen when the time is right. Every time you have an orgasm, your oxytocin release is very high. This also happens with nipple stimulation during sex.
Check out Nipple Stimulation For Induction Of Labor for more information.
This helps your uterus contracts naturally, supporting your cervix to shorten and open.
Does sperm soften the cervix?
You might wonder if semen has a purpose once you’re pregnant and yes, it does.
Semen contains prostaglandins, hormones that are directly involved in cervical ripening. In fact, semen is considered a very rich source of this hormone.
You might be concerned that semen could trigger premature labor. The prostaglandin receptors in your cervix are only activated when you’ve reached full term and your body is ready to go into labor.
Can squats induce labor?
Your baby’s head applying pressure to your cervix plays an important role in cervical ripening. The weight and pressure act physically on the cervix but also stimulate the release of prostaglandins.
When the toes of each foot are parallel, it encourages your sitz bones to separate (these are the bones you sit on). This allows the lower part of your pelvis to open up so your baby’s head can get into the best position, applying direct pressure to your cervix.
Gentle squats will encourage your baby get into this position. Make sure you don’t force deep squatting as you can injure yourself and even force the baby into the wrong position.
Gravity will also encourage contact between your baby and your cervix. Walking regularly and sitting with your hips higher than your knees (a birthing ball is great for this) point your baby towards the most optimal fetal position.
What can I eat to soften my cervix?
There are plenty of stories out there about pregnant mamas who ate or did something and then went into labor soon after.
Remember, there is an unseen process going on, and eating one particular thing isn’t what causes labor to start.
You might like to explore the ideas below, but always discuss your intentions with your doctor or midwife.
Can spicy food induce labor?
Spicy food can irritate your intestines and if this happens it can lead to cramping and uterine contractions. It doesn’t mean labor will begin, though; you’ll just have an irritated uterus, which can lead to you feeling exhausted.
Can dates soften the cervix?
This small study shows eating dates several weeks before the estimated due date has some positive benefits.
Women who ate dates were more likely to go into labor on their own and their cervix was more dilated on hospital admission.
As there were fewer than 70 participants in each group, researchers are cautious when drawing conclusions. However, no harm has resulted from eating dates so it can’t hurt to try this method.
Can pineapple induce labor?
This fruit contains the enzyme bromelain, believed to soften the cervix and trigger contractions for cervical dilation. However, there isn’t any scientific evidence to back up this belief.
You can find more information in Pineapple To Induce Labour: Does It Really Work?
Does raspberry leaf tea induce labor?
This tea is a uterotonic, meaning it helps to maintain uterine tone and general health. Raspberry leaf has no labor induction effect.
It hasn’t been proved that drinking large amounts of raspberry leaf tea is beneficial or harmful, so it’s best not to have more than one daily cup until you’ve reached full term.
Will drinking castor oil induce labor?
Castor oil has been used, especially when the intention is to birth at home, as a last resort, to avoid medical induction.
Castor oil acts as a very powerful laxative because of its action on the intestinal walls. Many women just experience the laxative effects (women can end up laboring with the runs!) and nothing more.
Even if this triggered labor (yet to be proved), the side effects of castor oil aren’t a great way to start labor. Your doctor or midwife will probably not recommend this method.
You can read more about the pros and cons in Castor Oil For Labor Induction.
Can black cohosh make you go into labor?
Black cohosh is a plant that has been used in traditional cultures to stimulate and encourage labor. Not a lot is known about how this plant works but it’s thought to alter estrogen levels.
Black cohosh is usually taken either as a herbal or homeopathic remedy. It’s very important to not use this remedy without the guidance of your doctor or healthcare provider. There is very little research on black cohosh safety and its potential side effects can be serious.
Can I soften my cervix for birth at home?
If you’re planning a birth at home, speak to your midwife about the ways you can lean into the process and encourage your body and cervix to soften and prepare.
Homebirth is often chosen by women to minimize the risk of medical interventions and induction. Work through how you feel about encouraging cervical ripening and if this aligns with your birth plan.
Why soften your cervix?
Bear in mind your body knows exactly what it’s doing. Patience and trust are your most important allies in this process.
Certainly, it can help you and your baby to labor in the most favorable conditions by being healthy, adopting good postures, and boosting up your oxytocin levels.
Your most powerful tool is information so you know to trust and connect with your body and your baby.
Relaxation techniques – meditation, massage, acupuncture – are great ways to bring in a positive mood and increase the oxytocin flow.
At the end of the day, this is all you need to facilitate cervical ripening and labor: make sure you are as happy, relaxed, and worry-free as possible.