Cervical ripening is the softening of the cervix before labor begins. This process is vital because the cervix is stiff and closed through most of the pregnancy to hold the baby inside the uterus, and it needs to soften and thin out (cervical effacement) so it can open (cervical dilation) to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal.
This is a natural process, but it does not always happen as it should thus the increased popularity of medically assisted cervical ripening and labor induction such as with prostaglandins, oxytocin, and Foley Bulb.
In contrast, there are also cases where the cervix ripens too early (premature cervical ripening) and labor begins before the baby is ready. This can lead to several problems such as premature birth, low birth weight, and other health complications for both the baby and the mother.
This image shows how often the term ‘Cervical Ripening’ is used in relation to other, similar birth terms:
Natural Methods of Ripening the Cervix
There are natural techniques to soften the cervix that may be attempted at home, including:
- Castor oil – Taking a spoonful of castor oil and drinking it down with a glass of water. However, some women find that they experience cramping and diarrhea after taking castor oil while others report no side effects at all. Please note: Castor oil should not be used if you are pregnant with twins or more, have had a c-section in the past, or are experiencing preterm labor.
- Spicy food – Eating spicy foods can help get the contractions going.
- Exercise – A little bit of light exercise can stimulate contractions and ripen the cervix.
- Walking – A good old-fashioned walk can also help start the contractions.
- Birthing Ball – Rocking, bouncing, and rotating the hips on a birthing ball also opens the pelvis, and it may speed up cervical dilation.
- Bring Your Toes Parallel: Bringing toes close together and in parallel, as opposed to standing in a wide stance with splayed feet can separate the sitz bones and open up the pelvis, allowing the baby to settle into the right place.
- Nipple Stimulation – When the nipples are stimulated, it releases oxytocin, which is the hormone that causes contractions.
- Sexual Intercourse – The semen contains prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that can help to ripen the cervix.
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture is another method that can help to stimulate labor where tiny needles are inserted into specific points on the body.
It is good to note that these methods may not or may not work and some can have undesirable effects. There is of course the truly natural approach and that is to let it happen when it is supposed to happen, with close monitoring by a birthing expert, bearing in mind that there is but a very small percentage of pregnancies that extended for more than a week after the due date.
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