Cervical Ripening for Childbirth: Care Instructions

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Cervical ripening is a process that causes the cervix to soften, open, and thin before childbirth. It helps prepare the cervix for a vaginal birth.

It usually happens on its own before labor starts. But sometimes the cervix needs help to ripen, such as before inducing labor.

This can be done using a balloon catheter. It's a rubber tube with an inflatable balloon on one end. The doctor can inflate the balloon to help ripen the cervix. Or it can be done with medicine.

Your water may break. You may go into labor. Your doctor will give you instructions for what to do if this happens.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

For all cervical ripening

  • Use sanitary pads for light bleeding.
  • Use a heating pad to help with belly cramps, low back pain, and mild uterine contractions.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription for pain medicine, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • It's okay to walk and do light activity.
  • Don't have sex or place anything in your vagina, such as tampons.
  • Don't take baths. You may shower.

If you have a balloon catheter

  • The balloon may fall out on its own.
  • Note the time when the balloon falls out.
  • You can throw the catheter away.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe vaginal bleeding. This means you have soaked through a pad and have ongoing bleeding, have a fast heart rate, or feel like you might pass out.
  • You have sudden, severe pain in your belly.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have a seizure.
  • You see or feel the umbilical cord.
  • You think you are about to deliver your baby and can't make it safely to the hospital.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You noticed that your baby has stopped moving or is moving much less than normal.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have heavy vaginal bleeding. This means you have soaked through one or more pads.
  • You've been having regular contractions for an hour. This means that you've had at least 8 contractions within 1 hour or at least 4 contractions within 20 minutes, even after you change your position and drink fluids.
  • You have a sudden release of fluid from your vagina.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.