Every expectant mother wants her baby to be born on time and healthy. The goal of every pregnancy is to deliver the baby at full-term, but sometimes complications arise that you aren’t expecting. About one in every 100 pregnant women is diagnosed with a condition known as incompetent cervix, which can make pregnancy difficult and premature birth more likely.
If you have incompetent cervix, your cervix opens before your pregnancy is full-term. As a normal pregnancy progresses, your cervix opens, shortens, and softens to prepare for birth. If you experience incompetent cervix, your cervix starts to open too early during pregnancy. This can cause problems and lead to miscarriage or premature birth.
Incompetent cervix, also called cervical insufficiency, can only be identified when you’re pregnant. Though identifying and diagnosing incompetent cervix can be difficult, Darin Swainston, MD, FACOG, uses a variety of tests to evaluate your condition:
- Pelvic exams
- Transvaginal ultrasounds
- Lab testing of the amniotic fluid
All of these tests can help him accurately diagnose you and propose treatment to help your baby stay healthy.
What causes incompetent cervix
Incompetent cervix is the result of weakened cervical muscles. As your baby grows, more pressure is placed on your cervix, which holds the baby in place in your uterus. If you have a weakened cervix, it can begin opening before your baby is ready to be born.
You may have incompetent cervix if you experience:
- A sensation of pelvic pressure
- Abdominal cramps
- Changes in vaginal discharge
Incompetent cervix is fairly uncommon, but if you notice these common symptoms, you should talk to Dr. Swainston about the condition. It’s also possible that you won’t experience any symptoms or pain with an incompetent cervix.
Women with uterine abnormalities or who have had cervical surgery in the past may be more likely to experience incompetent cervix during pregnancy. If you have a history of painless cervix dilation, you may be more at risk for cervical insufficiency.
How an incompetent cervix affects pregnancy
If you are diagnosed with incompetent cervix, treatment can help manage the increased risk to your baby. Untreated cervical insufficiency can lead to premature birth or miscarriage. If your cervix begins opening too early in your pregnancy, it increases the likelihood of complications.
Miscarriage occurs when the baby dies in the uterus before 20 weeks, and premature birth is when the baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Your history of pregnancies affects your likelihood of developing cervical insufficiency. If you have had an incompetent cervix with previous pregnancies or if you have a history of premature birth or miscarriage, you’re more likely to have it during future pregnancies. If you have uterine injuries due to a previous birth, your cervix may be more susceptible to weakening as well.
Incompetent cervix treatment
If you’re diagnosed with incompetent cervix, Dr. Swainston can propose a few methods to manage the condition. He may recommend repeated ultrasounds to monitor your progress and the length of your cervix throughout your second trimester. Progesterone supplements can help maintain the strength of your cervix through your second and third trimesters.
For women with a history of premature births due to incompetent cervix, Dr. Swainston may recommend cervical cerclage, which is a surgical procedure where your cervix is stitched closed with strong sutures. These sutures keep your cervix from opening prematurely and are removed in the last month of pregnancy.
Dr. Swainston is here to help women have successful, healthy pregnancies. If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, make an appointment with our caring team. Call our office today.