The Birth Survey Booby Traps

Vaginal Exams in Late Pregnancy

pregnancy photo and ultrasound

Vaginal exams have become routine in late pregnancy in most parts of the United States. We would like to believe that they tell us when labor will begin, but it really doesn't give us much of a clue.

So why do it? Well, doctors have been doing them routinely because they were taught to do them, women want to "know" how far along they are, etc. These reasons have their risks.

Having a vaginal exam can cause your membranes to rupture prematurely (making an induction necessary in the eyes of most care providers, which is also more likely to end in a cesarean), you run the risk of getting an infection which can harm both you and the baby, they can be quite painful, and a lot of people forget the emotional damage that may be done when misinterpreting the information.

Emotional damage can come when your care provider announces, "You are 2 cms dilated, the baby has dropped, I surely won't see you back in the office!" The woman gets her hopes up, but the baby doesn't come. What's wrong with her, what's wrong with her body she might ask? Well meaning friends and relatives may pick up the frenzy too. All of this is unnerving when 3 weeks later you are still going to your routine prenatal check-ups. Or the opposite scenario of, "You won't be having this baby for another couple of weeks, don't bother packing your bags." Only to have mom deliver by morning.

Remember vaginal exams measure several things:

  • Dilation & thinning of the cervix
  • Position of the baby
  • Station of the baby
  • Position of the cervix

Vaginal exams do not measure:

  • When the baby is coming
  • Whether the baby will fit (in most cases)
  • All the progress being made in labor

Hang in there! The baby is coming...(on its own time table)!!!!


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