Female reproductive organs
Female Reproductive System Pop-up Dialog
An incompetent cervix, also called cervical failure, occurs when weakness in the cervical tissue causes or contributes to premature birth or the loss of an otherwise healthy pregnancy.
Before pregnancy, your cervix – the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina – is usually closed and tight. As pregnancy progresses and you prepare for childbirth, the cervix gradually softens, decreases (clears) and opens (widens). If you have an incompetent cervix, your cervix may begin to open too soon, so you will have to give birth too soon.
If you have an incompetent cervix, you may not have any signs or symptoms during early pregnancy. Some women experience mild discomfort or spots for several days or weeks between the 14th and 20th week of pregnancy.
Look out for:
- A feeling of pelvic pressure
- A new backache
- Slight stomach cramps
Many women have no known risk factor. Risk factors for cervical insufficiency include:
- Cervical trauma. Some surgical procedures to treat cervical abnormalities associated with an abnormal smear test can result in cervical failure.
- Other surgical procedures like a D&C could also be linked to cervical leakage. In rare cases, a ruptured cervix during a previous birth and delivery may be associated with an incompetent cervix.
- Run. Black women seem to have a higher risk of developing cervical failure. We do not know, why.
An incompetent cervix carries risks to your pregnancy – especially in the second trimester – including:
- Premature birth
- Pregnancy loss
You can’t prevent an incompetent cervix, but there is a lot you can do to promote a healthy full-time pregnancy. For example:
- Find regular prenatal care. Prenatal visits can help your doctor monitor you and your baby’s health. Mention any signs or symptoms that concern you, even if they seem silly or unimportant.
- Eat a healthy diet. During pregnancy, you will need more folic acid, calcium, iron, and other important nutrients.
- A daily prenatal vitamin – ideally a few months before conception – can help fill nutritional gaps.
- Gain weight wisely. Proper weight gain can support your baby’s health.