What Does Effacement Mean in Pregnancy?

What Does Effacement Mean in Pregnancy?

Cervical effacement is part of the grand finale of your pregnancy.

Your belly has expanded farther than you thought possible.

You’re swollen, maybe cramping, and exhausted—and if another person asks you if you’re having a boy or a girl, you might just get violent.

Next exciting episode: How are you going to get this baby out?

Well, mama, the good news is that your body is very smart.

It has all sorts of plans for the big day.

And a major part of that is the thinning out (or effacement) of the cervix.

In this article: 📝

  • What does effacement mean in labor?
  • How long after effacement does labor begin?
  • What’s the difference between dilation and effacement?
  • How can I encourage cervical effacement?

What does effacement mean in labor?

So, first off, what does “effacement” mean?

Well, the effacement definition, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the thinning… of tissue or narrowing of an internal anatomical space” and is a term usually used to describe cervical effacement in pregnancy.

Cervical effacement is a big part of the vaginal birth equation.

But while you may have heard the term “effacement” tossed around on Peanut and in other mom groups, what is it exactly?

How is an effaced cervix measured? And what do those measurements mean for you and your baby’s entrance into the world?

Cervical effacement definition

Cervical effacement is the thinning, shortening, and softening of the cervix.

Effacement, along with contractions and cervical dilation, is one of the tricks your body performs so that your baby can go through the vaginal canal with (ahem) ease.

Your cervix is the connecting point between your uterus and your vagina.

Its normal job is to be the bouncer at the door of your uterus.

It decides what goes in and out.

It looks like a long-ish neck—in Latin, cervix uteri literally means “the womb’s neck”—and has the responsibility of letting sperm in and period blood and babies out.

When you’re not pregnant, your cervix is firm and long (about an inch or so) and takes its job of gatekeeper very seriously.

But when it starts to realize that there’s a baby that needs to get out, it knows to open up the exit routes.

To accomplish this, your cervix does two things: it dilates (opens) to about the size of a drinks coaster, and it effaces (thins and shortens).

How long after effacement does labor begin?

Our bodies are all on their own schedules, so there’s no one simple timeline when it comes to dilation and effacement toward the end of your pregnancy.

Sometimes 24 hours, sometimes days.

And there are different levels of cervical effacement, ranging from 0-100%.

Is effacement one of the signs of labor?

No, not necessarily.

Your cervix may get going on the process of effacement a few weeks before you give birth.

Or, because bodies all keep their own timelines, you can go from 0-100% effaced in a few hours before you go into labor, or even a few days.

When should you be 50% effaced?

What does 50% effaced mean?

At 50% effaced, your cervix is around 2cm long, shortening and thinning so baby can make their grand appearance.

If you’re like, I’m 50% effaced, how much longer?, we’re sorry to say we can’t really give you a specific timeline as to how long labor is going to last for you.

At 50% effacement, you’re in the early stages of labor, so contractions may not have started just yet, but you may have started to dilate.

What does 70% effaced mean?

If you’re 70% effaced, you’re over halfway through labor.

You may also be around 2cm dilated by this point, or possibly more, along with your cervical effacement.

Keep going, mama!

Is 75% effaced good?

There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ when it comes to effacement, but at 75% effaced, you’re about three-quarters of the way through labor.

And if you’re thinking, I’m 75% effaced, how much longer?, again, we can’t really say ‒ it could be hours or still days before you get to meet your baby.

What does 80% effacement mean?

Is 80% effaced close to labor?

Yes, mama. You’re almost there.

Basically, this means that the process is 80% complete.

Breathe, mama.

The final stretch (literally…) is in sight.

What is 90% effaced?

At 90% effaced, you’re nearly there!

You may or may not be dilated at this point ‒ every pregnancy journey is different, but your body’s getting ready to welcome baby into the world.

What does 100% effacement mean?

If you are giving birth vaginally, the cervix should be 100% effaced (like strand-of-hair kind of thin) and dilated to about 3.9 inches (coaster/bagel/grapefruit size).

In some cases, effacement can happen too early, leading to preterm delivery.

By looking at the size and makeup of your cervix ahead of time, your doctor may be able to flag this early on.

If so, they might monitor you more closely in the later stages of your pregnancy to see if there are signs that your little one wants to make an early appearance.

Can you be 100% effaced and not dilated?

If you are fully effaced but not dilated, there’s nothing to worry about.
Sometimes, cervical effacement and dilation don’t happen at the same time, so even if you are 100% effaced, it could still be quite some time before baby makes their appearance.

Can you be 100% effaced and not in labor?

Yes. The funny thing is that your cervix may complete the effacement process without any fanfare (self-effacing anatomy part that it is), and you may not even know that it’s happened.

You may feel some discomfort and mild contractions, but this is not the case for everyone.

But there are a couple of things you might notice as your cervix effaces.

All that work that your cervix is doing results in the loss of the mucus plug, that protective layer that has been sealing the uterus off during pregnancy.

Also, this is when the bloody show happens, that delightful blood-tinged discharge that makes its way out of your vagina as you prepare for labor.

How long does it take to go from 80% to 100% effaced?

It could take hours or it could take days ‒ every pregnancy journey is different.

If doctor can feel baby’s head, am I effaced?

If your doctor can feel baby’s head just above your pelvis, that means that baby’s not quite finished dropping into place for delivery.

Feeling baby’s head isn’t an indication of cervical effacement, more of baby’s position, ready for labor.

What’s the difference between dilation and effacement?

Dilation and effacement are two key parts of the labor process.

Cervical dilation is the opening of the cervix ‒ this is usually measured in centimeters, and you can be fully dilated at 10cm.

Cervical effacement is the thinning and shortening of the cervix, so baby can more easily make their appearance into the world.

Do Braxton Hicks cause effacement?

Potentially, yes. According to some studies, Braxton Hicks contractions can encourage the thinning and softening of your cervix, starting the process of cervical effacement.

How can I encourage cervical effacement?

There are a few things you can do to encourage your cervix to start effacing and to get the whole labor show on the road:

  • Walking
  • Bouncing on an exercise ball
  • Eating dates (but not too many, as they can have a laxative effect)

There you have it! All there is to know about what it means to have an effaced cervix in your pregnancy.

Baby’s nearly here! Best of luck, mama. So close now!

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