If you have symptoms of preterm labour, your
doctor or midwife may examine you by feeling your
cervix. 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 examinations allow your health
Find out how much your cervix has opened and
Find out how far the baby has moved down the birth canal
Check for fluid leaking from your vagina using a sterile
speculum. If fluid is present, it will be tested to
determine whether it is
amniotic fluid, which is a sign that your amniotic sac
Why It Is Done
Vaginal examinations are done when a
pregnant woman has:
Uterine contractions that may have changed her
cervix and may be preterm labour. The cervix may open and thin without strong or
Unusual pelvic pressure or back
Preterm labour 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 examination.
Preterm labour is not diagnosed if
contractions are occurring but the cervix is not becoming thinner or more
What To Think About
When a vaginal examination is not done to assess for preterm labour
When the amniotic membranes rupture early (preterm premature rupture of membranes, or pPROM), sterile speculum examinations are
kept to a minimum, and digital examinations 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 (placenta previa), vaginal examinations are completely avoided. Disturbing the placenta
can trigger bleeding.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine Thomas M. Bailey, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerWilliam Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology