If you have symptoms of preterm labor, your doctor or nurse-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 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 speculum. If fluid is present, it will be tested to determine whether it is amniotic fluid, 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.
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
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.