The cervix is the opening in the lower part of the uterus that opens and closes as needed in the different stages of women’s cycles. It opens during ovulation to allow the sperm to access the uterus.
Also during menstruation, there’s a modest cervical opening to allow menstruation to flow outside of the uterus.
During pregnancy, the cervix is tightly closed to prevent anything from reaching the inside of the uterus that could be a threat to the baby’s wellbeing. For this purpose, the consistency of the cervix is quite hard as the muscle fibers are working very hard in their protective role.
One of the very first things that need to happen before cervical dilation takes place is cervical ripening or cervical softening.
How long does it take for the cervix to soften?
Women’s bodies are all different and there isn’t a precise length of time for cervical ripening to occur.
What we can certainly say is that pregnancy is a continuous process and it isn’t really divided into physical stages. All the ‘stages’ have been determined by birth professionals to make their communication easier.
During the last weeks of pregnancy, the ripening of the cervix takes place as the cervix starts to prepare for labor
As labor approaches, the cervix softens and gets ready for its most important role: dilating to allow the baby to descend into the birth canal.
Cervical ripening will take a different amount of time for each woman. Even in the same woman, each pregnancy will be different and the time the cervix takes to work might also vary. Cervical ripening usually takes longer in the first pregnancy as it’s the first time this natural process has happened.
How to soften cervix at home naturally
During pregnancy and labor, it’s the baby who decides what happens and at what speed. Pregnant women can facilitate these processes but when we talk about facilitating labor onset there isn’t really much we can do to make it happen fast.
Women often want to know what natural methods might help with cervical ripening at home.
Here are some ideas to help with cervical softening.
What foods can induce labor?
There are various foods that are said to help with cervical ripening:
- Spicy foods
- Raspberry leaf tea
- Nettle tea
- Black cohosh root tea: never take it before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
If you want to know more about these foods for cervical ripening you can read How Can I Soften My Cervix?
Evening primrose oil
Evening Primrose Oil is a herbal remedy obtained from the primrose seeds. It’s inserted into the vagina as one of the more natural ways to induce labor when trying to avoid medical intervention.
If you want to know more you can read Evening Primrose Oil To Induce Labor -Does It Work?
Castor oil has been used for many decades as one of the natural ways to induce labor. It works as a purge and all research agrees that more studies should be done in order to use it safely as a natural and harmless way of inducing labor.
You can read more in Castor Oil To Induce Labor – Is It Safe?
Sperm fluid is full of prostaglandins, which are hormones that help with the ripening of the cervix.
The cervix itself plays an important role in whether or not prostaglandins are allowed to modify it. The prostaglandins present in the cervix will not be able to modify it if the cervix isn’t ready. When it is ready to soften, the prostaglandin receptors present in the cervix will react to the prostaglandins in the seminal fluid.
It is safe to have sexual intercourse during pregnancy before you reach full term as the hormonal receptors that will trigger labor are not yet active.
During nipple stimulation, oxytocin is released in order to get things going if labor is near.
Read BellyBelly’s article Nipple Stimulation For Induction Of Labour – 7 Easy To Follow Steps to know more.
Having an orgasm is the second biggest occasion for oxytocin release the body experiences. If you’re wondering which is the first, it is the hour after birth, provided mother and baby aren’t disturbed and are left to bond and get to know each other.
The article Pregnancy Sex Positions -7 Ideas For Pregnant Couples will give you some ideas about enjoying sex at the end of your pregnancy.
Pill to soften the cervix for labor
There is nothing natural about taking a pill to help with mechanical cervical ripening. However, there are pharmacological ways to soften the cervix and induce labor.
Prostaglandin-based pessaries trigger uterine contractions to help with softening of the cervix. The pills are usually inserted into the vagina and placed close to the cervix to encourage labor contractions to start.
These induction methods are used when the cervix is closed and there is no access, through the cervix, for membrane stripping or artificial rupturing of the bag of waters.
Such methods should never be tried at home. A medical induction must always be supervised by the obstetric team and should take place in a hospital. The baby’s wellbeing needs to be monitored while labor induction takes place.
Cervix softening symptoms
For the cervix to ripen, uterine contractions must take place. Irregular pre-labor contractions (the contractions before active labor begins) are responsible for cervical ripening.
When the cervix begins to soften, the mucus plug that has been sealing the cervical opening might become loose and be discharged outside. This plug is a mixture of mucus and old blood.
When softening of the cervix takes place, some small capillaries might break and fresh red blood appears. The way to differentiate the discharge of the mucus plug from vaginal bleeding is that the latter clots and is not accompanied by mucus.
If you don’t see the mucus plug but you’re having irregular contractions it doesn’t mean that the cervix isn’t opening. Some women never see this plug or they might see it a few hours after labor starts. If you see it, however, it means cervical ripening is taking place.
How can you tell if your cervix is open or closed?
For openings we cannot see, there are two ways of knowing whether they are open or closed.
If anything drains out of the cervix, such as menstrual blood or the mucus show that appears following the first labor contractions, we clearly know it’s open.
The other way to know whether the cervix is open or closed is by feeling it. Making sure you have clean hands, you can introduce two fingers inside your vagina. At the top of the vagina, you will reach the cervix, which feels like a spout. Right in the middle, there is an opening that can be felt easily with the tip of your finger if it’s slightly open.
Many women feel their cervix on a regular basis and this practice gives them a lot of information about what the cervix is doing at different life stages.
If you have this information it will be easier to identify any changes that happen during pregnancy.
If you check your cervix during pregnancy before you reach full term, be careful not to put your finger too far inside the cervix, as membrane stripping (separating the amniotic sac from the uterine wall) might occur; this could trigger contractions.
When the cervix is slightly open, stripping of the membranes is frequently used as a mechanical means to induce labor.
Having contractions but cervix is closed
Many women complain that they’re having contractions which ‘are not doing anything’. These contractions are actually very important. They are responsible for the ripening of the cervix and this is necessary to start labor.
These early contractions will prepare the cervix; the ripening of the cervix must occur before cervical dilation takes place.
In women who are pregnant for the first time, complete softening of the cervix takes place before dilation starts. In women who have had previous babies, ripening and dilation of the cervix can happen at the same time.
Read more about contractions in Contractions – Everything You Need to Know.
Can the cervix ripen overnight?
As mentioned earlier, pregnancy and labor happen on a continuum and although ripening of the cervix usually takes a few days, it can also happen very quickly.
Some women are completely unaware that cervix ripening is happening.
Some women have had cervical exams done by their healthcare providers and have been told there were no signs of cervical ripening, only to have their labor start shortly afterwards.
Your cervix can ripen in just a few hours. This fast ripening of the cervix, however, more commonly happens in women who have had previous babies, as the cervix have already been through the softening and dilating process and it’s easier for it to open up faster in future pregnancies.