Vaginal Exam for Preterm Labor
If you have symptoms of preterm labor, your doctor or nurse-midwife may examine you by feeling your Reference cervix Opens New Window. If your contractions continue over a period of hours, you may be examined periodically to see whether your cervix is opening (dilating) or thinning (effacing).
These exams allow your health professional to:
- Find out how much your cervix has opened and thinned.
- Find out how far the baby has moved down the birth canal (station).
- Check for fluid leaking from your vagina using a sterile Reference speculum Opens New Window. If fluid is present, it will be tested to determine whether it is Reference amniotic fluid Opens New Window, which is a sign that your amniotic sac has ruptured.
Why It Is Done
Vaginal exams are done when a pregnant woman has:
- Uterine contractions that may have changed her cervix and may be preterm labor. The cervix may open and thin without strong or painful contractions.
- Unusual pelvic pressure or back pain.
- Vaginal bleeding.
Preterm labor is diagnosed when a woman who is 20 to 37 weeks pregnant has uterine contractions and her cervix has changed, as seen with a vaginal exam.
Preterm labor is not diagnosed if contractions are occurring but the cervix is not becoming thinner or more dilated (open).
What To Think About
When a vaginal exam is not done to assess for preterm labor
When the amniotic membranes rupture early (Reference preterm premature rupture of membranes, or pPROM), sterile speculum exams are kept to a minimum, and digital exams are avoided. This is meant to reduce the risk of infecting the uterus and fetus.
When the placenta is known to be overlapping or covering the cervix (Reference placenta previa Opens New Window), vaginal exams are completely avoided. Disturbing the placenta can trigger bleeding.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: January 10, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Reference William Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine