What causes the softening of the cervix?

One of the final signals that labor is near is the ripening of the cervix. Ripening of the cervix refers the process by which the cervix thins, softens, becomes relaxed, and opens in response to uterine contractions. Once the cervix ripens and then dilates, this allows the fetus to pass through the cervical opening.

Cervical ripening is the result of a series of complex biochemical processes. Collagens and enzymes re-align themselves, and other bodily changes contribute to the softening of the cervix as well.

When the cervix is not ripening on its own and a woman is at or past her due date, a woman and her health care provider may choose to induce labor. One of the parts of inducing labor can be the softening of the cervix. Some women choose to attempt this process naturally, using herbs. Black Cohosh and Blue Cohosh both tone the uterus and can stimulate contractions. They can be used to start or augment labor. They are taken orally either as a liquid or capsule. Borage and Flax Seed Oil, Black Current Oil or Evening Primrose Oil can soften the cervix, tone the uterus and stimulate contractions.

There are several things that your health care provider may try to help induce labor and soften the cervix, including:
– Stripping or sweeping the membranes. If your cervix is already somewhat dilated, your practitioner can insert her finger through it and manually separate your bag of waters from the lower part of your uterus. This causes the release of hormones called prostaglandins, which may help further ripen your cervix and possibly get contractions going.
– Rupturing the membranes. If your cervix is at least a few centimeters dilated, your practitioner can insert a small, plastic hooked instrument into it and break your bag of waters. This procedure causes no more discomfort than a vaginal exam. If your cervix is very ripe and ready for labor, there’s a small chance that this alone might be enough to get your contractions going.
– Using prostaglandin medications. Your practitioner may try to ripen your cervix by inserting medication that contains prostaglandins into your vagina. This medication may also stimulate contractions sometimes enough to jump-start your labor.
– Using a Foley catheter. Your practitioner may insert a catheter with a very small uninflated balloon at the end of it into your cervix. When the balloon is inflated with water, it puts pressure on your cervix, stimulating the release of prostaglandins, which cause the cervix to open and soften.


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