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What’s effacement?
Q: Can you explain effacement? I know what it is, but I don’t understand time frame and signs. For example, I’m 30% effaced. Does that mean I’m getting close or do I still have awhile? Is there any way other than walking a lot and nipple stimulation that can help speed me into labor?
Lynnette Orange, Texas
A: To understand effacement and dilation, picture a clenched fist. This is analogous to an uneffaced and undilated cervix. As you peel away the fingers, the fist thins out, or effaces, until the index finger and thumb are the only two fingers touching—that’s the image of a fully effaced cervix.

The effacement process can go on undetected over the course of several weeks, or after hours of labor. So there’s no standard timetable. Being 30% effaced generally gives us no indication of when you will go into labor. You could have delivered by the time you read this response or still be pregnant for another month.

As for helping the onset of labor, I strongly discourage nipple stimulation. Although it can trigger uterine contractions, it can be dangerous to your baby, as unmonitored and uncontrolled contractions can lead to fetal distress.

Walking, eating food that irritates your intestines (which promotes diarrhea) and sexual intercourse have all been suggested as ways to get labor going, but they’re not reliable. The best thing to do is sit back and let Mother Nature run the show. She has a pretty good track record.