Doctors do many procedures during pregnancy that can leave a woman with a lot of questions. During my first pregnancy, the doctor checked my cervix and used all sorts of words like dilation and effacement and I had no idea what he was talking about. Finally while pregnant with my fourth child, I decided to take a proactive approach to understanding my own body and learning what the doctor was describing. One thing I found that I could do was to check my own cervix. After reading everything I could and talking to other moms I learned the easiest and safest way to do this.
Your cervix is the opening of your uterus that is found at the top of the birth canal. Checking your own cervix can help you to understand what your doctor is talking about. Checking it prior to labor starting can also give you a good idea where youíre at in labor and be able to gauge if youíre making progress. Below are the steps to take to check for dilation.
Get clean and sterile
The first thing you should do is clip your fingernails so that there are no sharp edges. You should wash your hands with soap and hot water and if available use sterile gloves.
Position is key
Any woman that is eight or nine months pregnant knows how hard it is to reach around a round belly. Finding the right position to reach your cervix can be challenging but is possible for most. One way is to sit on the toilet with one foot on the floor and the other up on the toilet seat or tub. Another is to stand on the floor with one foot up on the tub or toilet.
Find your cervix
To start you may want to use lubrication for comfort. Using your pointer and middle finger, insert up and back towards your bottom. Youíll be at your cervix when you canít reach any further. If youíre checking your cervix while in earlier pregnancy, it should feel hard and feel like tip of a nose. If youíre closer to delivery and possibly dilated, it will feel like puckered lips. Some women have a tilted uterus or their cervix hasnít softened up at all so they may feel like they canít reach it. If this is the case, wait a week and try again, it may just be too early.
Check for progress
Once your fingers are at your cervix, you will feel an opening much like you would if you were to put your fingers into puckered lips. The best way to gauge dilation is if you can fit one finger into the opening then you are about 1-2 cm dilated. If youíre not able to fit your finger in comfortably then youíre most likely not dilated at all. If you are dilated and in the right position you may feel the top of your babyís head. If youíre checking earlier in the third trimester, you can keep checking every few weeks to see how things are changing.
There are risks to checking your own cervix if you do not do it properly. Making sure to keep your hands clean and using sterile gloves will help to keep bacteria out of the birth canal. Also, you should not do a cervical check if your bag of water has ruptured. Doing so will increase your risk of infection.
When will labor start?
One important thing to remember is that everyone progresses differently. You may check and find that youíre 2-3 cm dilated, but that doesnít necessarily mean that you are going to have your baby soon. Many women can stay dilated in the early stages for weeks before labor starts. Dilation and effacement doesnít determine labor progression. If you check and you arenít dilated at all, remember it can change quickly, so try not to get discouraged.
Checking your own cervix can give you a sense of empowerment we need as women. You should know your body and know what doctors are talking about especially when they are examining such an intimate part of your body. By taking the steps above, you can get an idea where you are in the stages of labor and be on your way to a safe and healthy delivery.