What is the Cervix?
The cervix or the opening to the uterus or neck of the womb is an organ composed of collagen that rests between the vagina and the uterus. Collagen is basically a grouping of proteins that form the connective tissues of the body, such as ligaments and tendons. It is situated between the vagina and the uterus. In women, the cervix is very important in the reproduction process and it goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy. While this organ is normally slightly open to allow semen and menstrual blood to pass between the uterus and vagina, the cervix during pregnancy does a whole lot of stretching to allow the baby to pass through and become another member of the family.
The cervix is normally slightly open; when a woman becomes pregnant, the cervix is one of the many protections used to keep the growing fetus safe and what is referred to as a mucus plug will form on the vagina side to help keep any infections or anything else from making it into the uterus. As birth gets closer, the mucus plug will be released and flow out of the vagina. This red coloured sticky mucus is commonly called a “show”. The cervix during pregnancy actually has two layers. The outer layers opens while the inner layer is more like a bubble that gets thinner the closer the baby is to being birthed.
What is the Significance of Cervical Length?
In most cases, the actual length of the cervix during pregnancy does not matter. However, if the cervix starts to open too early, is unusually small, or a woman has experienced problems with miscarriage or cervical insufficiency with a previous pregnancy, a procedure called a cerclage might be performed. The doctor will actually stitch the cervix shut until around the time when it is safe for the baby to be born. Stitching cervix during pregnancy is a highly controversial practise as some professional claim that this can cause the very problem they were meant to prevent if performed too close to term. Studies did not show this to be as much of a problem with pregnancies in the early stages of less than 24 weeks.
Following various factors can influence cervical length during pregnancy:
- Over distended uterus
- Bleeding during pregnancy leading to pregnancy complications
- Infection & Inflammation during pregnancy
- Incompetent cervix
How Big is the Cervical Opening?
Any woman who has had a child will have a larger opening in their cervix than one who has not, although the average size of the cervical opening is 3 centimeters. The cervix of a woman giving birth will expand to as large as 10 centimeters, but it will not get that large until actual labor contractions have started and the baby is almost ready to push through the inner layer and out the birth canal. The size of the cervix does not affect how the labor goes, though; that is attributed to the contractions, position of the baby, and the size of the baby.
What are the Changes to Cervix during Pregnancy?
The construction of the cervix is basically designed to protect the development of the fetus. During pregnancy cervix stretch and expand. In the Effacement or thinning of the cervix, the external opening leading to the vagina will shorten and open slightly while the internal opening leading to the uterus will began to thin out leading to thinning of cervix during pregnancy. Towards the end of pregnancy, the cervix starts to ripen. A “ripe” cervix is soft and beginning to thin to dilate fully.
Some women may not notice any changes in their cervix at all throughout their pregnancy. This is a pretty normal occurrence as sometimes the cervix will not begin to soften and open until the contractions start. The doctor will typically monitor the cervix throughout pregnancy to be able to determine if there will be any problems or not. It is equally important for the woman to keep the doctor informed of any changes to anything on their bodies to help keep them aware of anything that could be a potential problem. Women can easily find information about the changes to the cervix during pregnancy or ask their doctors about any concerns they have about the cervix during pregnancy.
Image Credit: www.wikipedia.org
Last reviewed on : March 29, 2013
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