So many terms thrown around when you enter the world of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, and early parenthood. In our "Terminology Explained" series, we help you break it down, bit by jargony bit.
The term for today is cervical lip.
What is Cervical Lip?
Official definition: Cervical lip is a term that's use to describe the state of the cervix during dilation in labor. A cervical lip means that when a person is almost fully dilated, there is still a portion of the cervix on one side of the baby's head (or feet or butt) that, ideally, needs to get out of the way prior to pushing. To fully understand cervical lip, you must first be familiar with the mechanics of birth; in particular, the cervix, dilation, and effacement. The cervix is the "neck" of the uterus. Contractions of the uterus help dilate (open) the cervix as well as efface or thin the cervix, both of which are necessary for birth. Full effacement and dilation means that the cervix is fully open and pulled up and away in order to allow sufficient space for baby to birth.
When you will hear/see the term used? Cervical lip is most often used by medical providers, including midwives, OBs, and nurses. You would likely hear the term being used after a vaginal exam in the very late stages of labor prior to pushing.
Why is it important/beneficial? Many people push their babies out with the presence of a cervical lip with no knowledge of its presence and without any issues! Some people experience difficulty during pushing that is believed to be caused by the presence of a cervical lip. If this seems to be the case, it's generally advised to wait until the lip disappears (moves up). Waiting to push (which can be difficult, especially if you feel the urge) can give the lip time to move out of the way and make pushing more effective.
Sometimes, a cervical lip is caused by baby's position in relation to your pelvis. For this reason, if a cervical lip is present and causing issues, it can help to try position changes to help baby get into a better position and clear the cervical lip. Ask your doula, nurse, midwife or OB for suggestions.
If you feel the urge to push, but want to try and wait until the cervical lip clears, you can try breathing like you're blowing out candles on a cake (instead of pushing) through each contraction. If you have access to water (shower or tub), try using it to find some relief while you give your body some time to finish dilating.
If the cervical lip isn't budging or is causing pain or prolonging pushing, your care provider may suggest manually moving the cervix out of the way. This is done by inserting their fingers vaginally and forcibly moving the cervix around baby's head in order to help birth progress. It can be quite uncomfortable and may take a couple of contractions, and may be done in coordination with pushing. If successful and if the lip was what was causing the issues, it can result in more effective pushing and birth.
Honest, open, clear, and trusted communication with your care providers and support team is critical for any issues, like the presence of a cervical lip, during labor. Be sure to ask questions, ask for suggestions, and ask for complete information, including risks and benefits of any procedure.
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