You don’t need a medical degree to check your cervix at home. Here’s how to recognize changes in your cervix to determine how close you are to labor.
Before getting pregnant, I never gave much thought to my cervix. It wasn’t until the tail end of my pregnancy that I sparked any interest in checking my cervix at home.
I learned from friends that checking my cervix at home could tell me if I was dilated and if I was close to delivering. I was hesitant at first. My doctor was the only person who could check my cervix, right?
The truth is that you can absolutely check your own cervix at home. The more you familiarize yourself with how it feels before labor, the better equipped you’ll be to notice changes such as dilating (opening) and effacing (softening).
“The cervix shortens, thins, and dilates during childbirth” according to VeryWell.com. “It morphs from being slightly shut and hard at the start of pregnancy to 10 centimeters wide and completely effaced (or thinned out) at birth.”
What the Experts Say
“Cervical ripening (softening, effacement, and increased distensibility) begins about 4 weeks before delivery.”
Maternal, Fetal, & Neonatal Physiology, Susan Tucker Blackburn
“In response to the increased level of circulating estrogen produced by the placenta during pregnancy, the cervix of the uterus becomes more vascular and edematous than usual. A mucus plug, called the operculum, forms to seal out bacteria and help prevent infection in the fetus and membranes.”
Maternal and Child Health Nursing, Adele Pillitteri
“The most obvious cervical changes occur in color and consistency. Estrogen causes hyperemia (congestion with blood) of the cervix, resulting in the characteristic bluish purple color that extends to and includes the vagina and labia. This discoloration, referred to as Chadwick’s sign, is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy.”
Maternal-Child Nursing, Emily Slone McKinney, Susan R. James
“Check changes in the cervix by doing a vaginal examination closer to your due date. This is to determine how much the cervix has softened, how much it has opened up (dilated), and how thin it has become (effaced). It is difficult to determine the date of delivery just by doing a vaginal examination.”
Lifestyle During Pregnancy, Savitri Ramaiah
“If you’re having contractions but your cervix hasn’t started to “ripen,” or become softer, you’re not really in labor, because the cervix will not begin to dilate. Once the softening has begun and you are having contractions, your labor progress can be measured periodically by checking the cervix.”
Body, Soul, and Baby, Tracy W. Gaudet
How to Check Your Cervix
You can check your cervix at home in just a few simple steps. Here’s how it’s done.
- Wash your hands thoroughly to avoid entering bacteria into the vagina. You may also choose to wear sterile gloves.
- Locate the entrance of your vagina with your fingertips. Turn your arm so that the back of your hand is facing your spine and your palm is facing upwards.
- Insert two fingers (pointer and middle fingers) into your vagina. Angle your fingers back towards your anus and reach for your cervix. If you experience pain, remove your fingers.
- Once you’ve reached the back of your vaginal canal, you should find your cervix which feels like a pair of puckered lips. Some women may have a higher cervix, making it more difficult to reach it with their fingers.
- Use gentle pressure to touch the cervix with your finger. If you are already dilated, your finger may slip into the center of the cervix. Inside you may feel your bag of waters which feels similar to a latex balloon filled with water.
- If your cervix is open, use your fingers to determine how dilated you are. If you can insert one finger into the center of the cervix, you’re approximately one centimeter dilated. If you can insert four finger widths, you’re approximately 4 centimeters dilated. When you reach 10 centimeters dilation, you’re ready to deliver.
- As you progress towards labor, your cervix will efface or thin out. Eventually the cervix will thin out so much you won’t be able to feel it.
Taking Safety Precautions
It’s best to avoid frequent cervical checks during pregnancy as this can irritate the cervix and increase your risk of infection. It’s also crucial to be very hygienic before inserting fingers into the vagina. If going gloveless, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and cut your nails short.
It’s not easy to check your cervix with your pregnant belly in the way. Try different positions to find one that’s most comfortable for you. The most ideal position for checking the cervix is while lying down on a bed. Use pillows to prop yourself up. You may also choose to lift one leg, similar to the way you would insert a tampon.
The cervix acts as a passageway leading from your uterus to your vaginal canal. Right before or during labor, many women choose to check their own cervix at home to determine how close they are to delivery. Crosscheck your findings with other common early labor signs, such as fluid leakage, cramps, contractions, and pelvic pressure.