Birth Terminology Explained: Effacement


There is a lot of terminology thrown around when you enter the world of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, baby feeding, and early parenthood. In our “Terminology Explained” series, we help you break it down, bit by jargony bit. 

The term for today is effacement.

What is Effacement? 

Official Definition: Effacement refers to what happens to the “neck” of your cervix leading up to and in preparation of labor. Prior to labor, this cervical neck is long, hard (like the end of your nose), and thick. When your body readies for labor, the cervix softens, thins, and shortens. The effacement of your cervix is revealed by care providers (nurse, OB, midwife) when performing a manual cervical check (often done routinely but not medically necessary and can be declined).

Effacement is expressed in percentages; when you are 100% effaced, you will likely be ready to push and birth your baby. Dilation, on the other hand, refers to how open your cervix is and is expressed in centimeters, from 1-10, with 10cm being fully dilated. Effacement and dilation do not happen at the same rate alongside each other. You can be 50% effaced, for example, and only 1cm dilated. How effaced you are is not a reliable predictor for when you will go into labor, but rather a sign that your body is doing what it needs to prepare. 

When you will hear/see the term used? Effacement is determined by a digital (using fingers) cervical exam, which is performed by your care provider. Cervical checks are not mandatory and can be declined – it’s your choice! Effacement is one of the measurements used in the Bishop Score — a set of scores that predict how favorable your cervix is for an induction and the likelihood of success with an induction.  

Why is it important/beneficial? It is not vital to know how effaced your cervix is at the end of pregnancy. If it’s very effaced, you may falsely believe that labor is imminent. If it’s not at all effaced, you may falsely believe that labor is very far away and feel disappointed. Some people enjoy tracking their body’s progress for labor preparation and prefer to know their effacement and dilation leading up to and during labor. It’s a personal choice that you have the right to choose or decline. 

Learn more about effacement, including signs of effacement and issues surrounding effacement, from Verywell Family

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