Cervical ripening is the process from which the cervix turns from hard like rubber into soft and pliable more like a softer cheese. We will discuss why it’s important, how it happens and how long it takes!
But, how do I know so much about cervical ripening? Hi, I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse®. I’ve been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of labor and delivery experience. I’ve felt with my own hands as someone’s cervix ripens, and I’ve actually started a lot of patients through medical cervical ripening, so I’m a great one to share with you how it happens!
What is a Ripened Cervix?
Just like good fruit (fruit analogies are everywhere in medicine) or avocado, your cervix is going to start out very hard.
The reason it’s like that is it protects the baby during your pregnancy. If the cervix started-OUT soft what would it do as baby grew? It needs to be firm to protect baby.
BUT, as you get closer to your due date your body will release hormones that help to RIPEN your cervix, and just like a good avocado it will soften. Then, baby’s head, contractions, and gravity will allow that cervix to open up, allowing baby to progress into the birth canal.
As a nurse, you’ll feel someone cervix as VERY hard (like rubber on a car tire) and then slowly start to soften until it’s more like a soft cheese.
Don’t miss my super helpful post all about the signs of labor. Great info for pregnancy!
And grab my labor signs checklist here:
How do I Ripen my Cervix?
So, if cervical ripening softens the cervix, how do I get my cervix to do it?
Sadly, you don’t have a whole lot to do with cervical ripening.
However, things like sex or dates may play a role in having those hormones around the end of the cervix where it is starting to allow it to soften. Remember, you need those things often and frequently to make your cervix soften. Meaning, you have to eat a few dates every day starting around 36 weeks, and sex would need to be frequent, not just one time. This study shows doing “it” frequently could MAYBE help, but this one shows doing it once doesn’t change anything.
There is some train of thought that things like midwives brew or raspberry tea may help in a similar way.
The only PROVEN method of ripening your cervix is synthetic prostaglandins like
The other method is to wait for your body to do it on its own.
Remember you have to get your Brain, your Baby and your Body all in agreement that it’s time for baby to come:
- Your brain means that you could be holding yourself back from going into labor — so get prepared and confident about it in here.
- Your baby may release hormones saying it’s “ready” (like, when the lungs are mature)
- Your uterus may release hormones once the uterus has stretched enough and it’s time to go.
We really aren’t entirely sure why some people go into labor at a certain time and some don’t. We’re not sure ALL the mechanics that happen to produce labor — some of it is still a mystery of nature.
The reality is that until your cervix has softened a lot of the other things (like jumping jacks or curb walking) won’t do a whole lot because your cervix is still hard and preventing baby from coming into the birth canal.
If your cervix is already ripe (or favorable) an induction can start right-off with just pitocin (skipping the prostaglandins that I mentioned above).
How long does it take for a cervix to ripen?
It really depends. Everyone takes their own pace.
Some people’s cervix is already ripening at 36 weeks at provider’s check, but many will find themselves DUE and the cervix is still not ripened.
The good news is that it can be ripened in just a few hours. Small contractions, really help to ripen that cervix. Braxton Hicks contractions may not actually be “false” labor after all. Those types of smaller contractions are often doing the job of ripening your cervix for you!
So that’s all about your cervix — but don’t forget that cervical ripening is just a VERY small part of labor and delivery. Come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples — it’s the EASY way to get prepared for birth. I explain stuff in simple, easy to understand terms so you’re aware of what’s going to go on with you and your body.
Or, if you just want to get your baby out, check out my guide on how to go into labor that may have some tips for you !
- Carbone L, De Vivo V, Saccone G, D’Antonio F, Mercorio A, Raffone A, Arduino B, D’Alessandro P, Sarno L, Conforti A, Maruotti GM, Alviggi C, Zullo F. Sexual Intercourse for Induction of Spontaneous Onset of Labor: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Sex Med. 2019 Nov;16(11):1787-1795. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2019.08.002. Epub 2019 Sep 11. PMID: 31521572.
- Kavanagh J, Kelly AJ, Thomas J. Sexual intercourse for cervical ripening and induction of labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2001;2001(2):CD003093. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003093. PMID: 11406072; PMCID: PMC7017007.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice. She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
As an evidence-based prenatal educator Hilary has delivered thousands of babies and has educated hundreds of thousands of parents from a diverse patient population to help them have a confident birth.