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What Is Goodell's Sign?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Goodell’s sign refers to a softening of the cervix indicative of pregnancy appearing around six weeks into gestation. Over the course of the pregnancy, the cervix will soften considerably before it starts to thin, making it possible to dilate the uterine opening for delivery. A physician may be able to spot Goodell’s sign during a routine examination. It, along with other indicators, can be used to identify a pregnancy and determine the gestational age.

This phenomenon is named for an American gynecologist who worked in the 1900s. He contributed a large body of research to the obstetrical field, including the description of the cervical changes later named after him. In eras before reliable blood and urine testing provided definitive information about pregnancies, such signs were especially important for diagnostic purposes. Doctors couldn’t conclusively identify early pregnancy without indicators like Goodell's sign.

The cervix contains tough collagen fibers normally forming a firm barrier between the vagina and the uterus. In pregnancy, the collagen begins to break down in response to hormonal changes triggered by the pregnancy. Goodell’s sign takes the form of a noticeable softening of the cervix which begins to onset around six weeks. In women who are not pregnant, the structure should be tough to the touch, almost like cartilage. Over time, it becomes more pliant because of the decreased collagen bonds.

In the very late stages of pregnancy, women experience a process called cervical ripening to prepare for delivery. The cervix softens and thins, in a phase called effacement. Processes similar to those involved in the development of Goodell’s sign also contribute to cervical ripening. A mucus plug in the cervix acts to protect the uterus until the mother is ready to deliver. It is sometimes possible to hasten the cervical ripening process to encourage women to deliver earlier, as might be necessary if there are concerns about the pregnancy.

After labor and delivery, uterine and cervical changes start occurring almost immediately. The uterus clamps down to prevent blood loss, and over time returns to its original size. Thickening and hardening occur in the cervix to restore its firm composition. It may take several months for the woman’s body to fully recover. If she gets pregnant again, the same process recurs, with the uterus expanding and softening to accommodate the fetus. The cervix and the rest of the pelvis also prepare to hold the growing baby and realign to facilitate delivery.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By ZipLine — On Feb 07, 2013

I'm a nurse and I can say that Goodell's sign used to be very important when other methods of confirming pregnancy were not available like the article said.

But now, physical signs like Goodell's sign and Chadwick's sign are not considered positive signs of pregnancy. So no practitioner will confirm a pregnancy simply looking at these signs. Ultrasound and urine test are preferred methods now.

These signs are still looked for by nurses and other caregivers, but simply to see if there is a probability of pregnancy. If they are present, further testing will be done to confirm or deny a pregnancy.

By fify — On Feb 06, 2013
@MikeMason-- The cervix is the lower part of the uterus. If you know what your cervix felt like before and routinely self-examine, you can notice the softening that occurs with pregnancy.

I personally could never tell because I didn't pay attention to what my cervix felt like before I was pregnant. But my doctor did feel it during my physical exam and said that the cervix had softened.

If you're trying to examine your wife, I doubt you will be able to tell the difference. Just let the doctor do the examination and tell you.

By stoneMason — On Feb 06, 2013

Can I notice Goodell's sign myself?

Where exactly is the cervix? Can I tell by touching?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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