How to Soften Your Cervix for Birth Naturally

Cervical dilation and effacement are necessary for a vaginal birth, but the process doesn't always happen as it should. Here's how to encourage your cervix to soften with natural methods.

pregnant woman sitting on exercise ball
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Near the end of the third trimester, the cervix will soften in order to begin the process of effacing (thinning and stretching) and dilating (opening up) in preparation for your baby's birth.

An open cervix allows the baby to pass through the birth canal—but cervical ripening doesn't always happen as it should. Luckily, though, there are things you can do at home to help the process. Here's what to know.

What If My Cervix Doesn't Open?

Your doctor or midwife may check for cervical dilation and effacement during your late third-trimester prenatal appointments. The changes usually begin several weeks before delivery, but it's not uncommon to still have a closed cervix near your due date.

First-time parents, for example, might not experience cervical opening until labor, even if the cervix has started to thin out or soften beforehand, says Michele Hakakha, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist based in Los Angeles and co-author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy.

Sometimes, however, induction is recommended when the cervix shows no signs of change as the baby's due date nears or has passed. While going beyond 40 weeks of pregnancy (going "overdue") is common and can be perfectly fine, it can also come with an increased risk of certain concerns like fetal macrosomia (large size), shoulder dystocia, low amniotic fluid, compromised functioning of the placenta, and infection.

To avoid an induction, a pregnant person can try natural ways to soften their cervix at home toward the end of pregnancy. "Cervical softening is one of the most important aspects of labor," says Ashley Brichter, founder and CEO of Birth Smarter, a company that offers in-person and virtual childbirth classes for expectant parents. "We want to get the cervix soft because it will be easier to open up."

Ways to Help Soften the Cervix at Home

Nearing your due date and want to stimulate cervical ripening at home? Focus on softening the tissues. The best way to do that, says Brichter, is encouraging your baby to get into the proper position—which is head-down, facing your back, and pressing against the cervix.

"Pressure from the baby's head produces prostaglandins, which signals to your body that it's time to go and start contractions," says Brichter. These prostaglandins also soften and open up the cervix.

Here are some ways to encourage cervical ripening at home.

Parallel your feet

According to Brichter, many pregnant people naturally stand in a wide stance with splayed feet. But bringing your toes parallel can separate the sitz bones, which opens up the pelvis and can coax your baby into the proper position.

Work on alignment

Bringing some balance into your own body might also help. Try standing with your hips over your ankles (instead of pushing out your belly), and don't slouch when sitting.

Try a birthing ball

Rocking, bouncing, and rotating your hips on an exercise ball or birthing ball also opens the pelvis, and it may speed up cervical dilation.

Walk around

Don't underestimate the power of gravity. When walking, your baby will press against the cervix, which might help it efface and dilate.

Have sex

For pregnant people whose partner has testes, penis-in-vagina sex may be worth a try. The idea is that semen contains prostaglandins, which promote a soft cervix. Additionally, it's thought that having an orgasm can spur uterine contractions, which may help things along.

Evidence is mixed regarding whether partnered or solo sex at the end of pregnancy actually helps induce labor, but if you have a low-risk pregnancy, it might not hurt to test the theory. Just talk to your health care provider first.

Herbal remedies

Some herbal remedies such as red raspberry leaf tea, black and blue cohosh, and evening primrose oil have been known to help ripen a cervix and prepare the body for labor. But before trying an herbal remedy, talk to your doctor or midwife to ensure it is safe for you.

Acupuncture

Some clinical research shows that acupuncture may be an effective way to help ripen the cervix, get labor started, and even shorten the time between labor starting and delivery.

Cervical Ripening in the Hospital

If all else fails and you've passed your due date without a hint of cervical ripening, your doctor may recommend inducing labor to avoid delivery complications. Here are some common medical methods for cervical ripening:

  • Stripping of the membranes: This is a process in which the doctor or midwife rubs a gloved finger between the amniotic sac lining and the uterine wall to encourage the release of cervix-softening prostaglandins and start contractions.
  • Medication: Prescription prostaglandins (either oral or vaginal) may be used to encourage cervical softening and dilation.
  • Mechanical: Mechanical cervical ripening is when a balloon-like device called a Foley catheter is gradually inflated to help push the cervix open.
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