The cervix is such an important part of every woman’s reproductive system; allowing menstrual blood to leave the uterus, allowing sperm to enter the uterus and allowing for a baby to come out of the uterus and into the world.
Playing such important roles as far as reproduction is concerned, the cervix undergoes certain changes when a woman is pregnant and after she has given birth.
What changes can the cervix undergo through these stages?
The cervix is the lower-end part of the uterus which is round with an opening at the middle much like a donut. It is located high inside the vagina, about 3 to 6 inches from the vagina.
A woman can check their cervix position and changes by inserting the middle finger (as it is the longest finger) and feeling for the cervix. You should be able to tell where your cervix lies in its normal position by monitoring its position over several menstrual cycles.
- High cervix position is when the cervix is felt past the second knuckle of your finger or when you are not able to feel the cervix.
- Medium cervix position is when you can feel the cervix after inserting the second knuckle.
- Low cervix position when the cervix can be felt on inserting the first knuckle.
Ensure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap, that your nails are short to avoid injuring yourself and that you are in a sitting position when checking the position of your cervix
In early pregnancy the cervix may feel soft and rise up. The cervix feels soft because it contains more blood due to the high levels of oestrogen in the body. However, every woman’s experience is different and therefore you cannot depend on the cervix rising to determine whether you are pregnant.
Cervical mucus begins to form in early pregnancy and becomes thick, clear and viscous as the pregnancy proceeds. However, if the mucus appears yellow or greenish, smelly and you have itching, you will need to see a doctor because that might be the sign that you have an infection.
In normal circumstances, the cervix is usually rigid and closed but as the baby grows in the womb, the cervix opens to create space for the baby. If the cervix opens too soon, you might be at the risk of a premature birth. This opening of the cervix is what is referred to as cervical length and it can also occur if your uterus is overstretched, if you have inflammation or an infection, or if you have bleeding complications.
During Labour and Childbirth
The cervix, being the part of the uterus that gives way to the baby, undergoes several changes during labour and childbirth. When contractions begin, they draw the cervix up into the body of the uterus and the cervix starts effacement (thinning of the walls) and it dilates (opens up).
The cervix dilates in phases:
- The latent phase during which it dilates from 0 to3 centimetres,
- During active labour during which it usually dilates from 4 to7 centimetres,
- During transition during which it dilates from 8 to10 centimetres, and
- When it is fully dilated at 10 centimetres.
One rare but possible complication of the cervix during labour is when it is less than 3 centimetres in length. It is usually 3 or more centimetres and if it is less than that it can cause cervical incompetence or put a woman at a risk of having a premature delivery.
If the cervix shortens without contractions which could lead to a baby being born prematurely, there is need for a cervical cerclage. Cervical cerclage is the placing of stitches on the cervix which help to hold it closed.
Another rare complication is when the cervix is stenotic; remains tightly shut and unable to dilate or open. This could be as a result of a genetic anomaly, a previous infection, exposure to radiation or even a previous surgery.
Giving birth in a hospital or birth centre can be useful in cases where complications arise, as it gives women better access to treatment that might be needed to have their babies safely.