Vaginal Examinations During Labor – Importance, Frequency and Types

6 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

vaginal examinations during labor

Vaginal examinations (VEs) during labor are a regular aspect of childbirth and delivery. The majority of hospitals consider vaginal exams (VEs) during labor as a vital part of providing maternity care. They keep a record of a woman’s “progress” while she goes through childbirth. The majority of women will get a vaginal exam shortly after being admitted, followed by one every four hours thereafter.

Frequent vaginal examinations can anticipate the dilation and effacement of the cervix. Your doctor or the nurse attending you during the labor may conduct the vaginal examination. Here is everything you need to know about vaginal examinations during labor and its importance. 

In This Article

Video Of Demystifying Vaginal Exams

What Are Vaginal Examinations?

A vaginal examination is a procedure that is done to check the health of the vagina. It is usually done by a doctor or nurse and involves looking at the outside of the vagina, feeling the walls of the vagina, and taking a sample of fluid from the vagina. The procedure is often done to check for infections, determine the stage of pregnancy, or diagnose other conditions. It is important for women to understand the purpose of a vaginal examination and to feel comfortable with the process.

Why Are Vaginal Examinations Important During Labor?

woman getting vaginal examination in labor

Vaginal examinations are an important part of labor and delivery. They help monitor the progression of labor and provide valuable information to the medical team. Vaginal examinations allow the doctor to assess the baby’s position and station, determine the progress of labor, and assess the risk of infection. They can also help identify any potential problems that may arise during labor. Vaginal examinations can help prevent complications and ensure the safety of both the mother and baby.

What Do Vaginal Examinations Tell the Doctor?

Vaginal examinations in labor give doctors an opportunity to assess the progress of labor and the baby’s well-being.

  • A vaginal examination is a procedure performed by a doctor or midwife during labor to check the progress of the labor and the well-being of the baby.
  • The doctor or midwife will insert two fingers into the woman’s vagina to feel the top of the baby’s head or the crowning.
  • This allows them to check the baby’s position and how far the head is out of the birth canal.
  • They will also measure cervical dilatation and effacement, which indicates how open the cervix is and if the baby is ready to be born.
  • In addition to checking the baby’s position, a vaginal examination can also help determine how much the woman has dilated and how far along she is in labor.
  • It can also help determine if the baby is in a favorable position for labor and childbirth and if there are any problems that may require medical intervention.
  • A vaginal examination can also help the doctor determine if the baby is in distress and needs to be delivered immediately. In this case, the doctor may perform a cesarean delivery.
  • The doctor may also use the procedure to check for any signs of infection or other complications.

[Read : Cervical Effacement During Pregnancy]

Frequency of Vaginal Examinations During Labor 

woman in labor

Vaginal examinations during labor are an important part of the labor process. They help determine the progress of labor and provide important information about the health of the baby and the mother. The frequency of vaginal examinations will depend on the individual labor process and the preferences of the care provider.

1. Four to Six Hours – Initial Stages of Labor

During the initial stages of labor, vaginal examinations are generally done every four to six hours. This will help determine if the cervix is dilating at a normal rate and if the baby is in the optimal position for delivery. Vaginal examinations also help to determine when active labor has started and when the mother is ready to push.

[Read : Pushing (Bearing Down) The Baby]

2. Two to Three Hours – Mid Labor

As labor progresses, doctors conduct vaginal examinations more frequently, like every two or three hours. This is useful to anticipate the progressing labor, and that the baby is in the proper position for delivery. The frequency of vaginal examinations may also increase if the labor is not progressing as expected or if the baby’s heart rate is abnormal.

3. Fifteen to Thirty Minutes – Ending Stages of Labor

At the end of labor, doctors usually conduct vaginal examinations every fifteen to thirty minutes. This tells them about the baby’s position and whether the mother is ready to push. Frequent vaginal examinations can also help in identifying fetal distress.

[Read : What Happens To Your Cervix During Labor Or Birth?]

Types of Vaginal Examinations During Labor

doctor conducting vaginal examination

Here are a few types of vaginal examinations during labor

1. Bimanual Examination

Your doctor or midwife checks your cervix and vagina to understand the size and position of the baby, assess the strength and frequency of contractions, and determine how far you have dilated.

2. Speculum Examination

This is an exam in which a speculum (a tool used to widen the vagina) is used to view the cervix. This can help to detect any abnormalities or signs of infection.

3. Amniotomy 

This is a procedure in which your doctor will rupture the amniotic sac to help speed up labor.

4. Digital Examination

In this procedure, your doctor will insert one or two fingers into your vagina to assess the dilation and effacement of the cervix.

5. Ultrasound

This is a non-invasive procedure that uses sound waves to create images of the uterus, cervix, and baby. This can help to detect any potential problems with the baby’s position or size.

Preparing Yourself For Vaginal Examinations During Labor

Vaginal examinations are an important part of labor and delivery to assess the progress of labor and the health of the baby. Preparing for a vaginal examination during labor can help reduce anxiety and make the process go more smoothly.

Here are some tips that can help you get yourself prepared.

1. Talk to Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor or midwife about the procedure and any questions you may have. Knowing what to expect can help reduce anxiety and make you more comfortable during the examination.

2. Practice Breathing Techniques

You may want to practice some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, visualization, or guided imagery. These can help to reduce stress and make the examination more manageable.

[Read : Useful Breathing Techniques For Easing Labor]

3. Empty Your Bladder Before the Test

Your bump is already pressing your bladder, plus a vaginal examination with a filled bladder can make it more uncomfortable. Emptying your bladder just before the vaginal examination can actually help you stay relaxed. 

4. Ask Your Doctor For a Safe Lubricant to Ease The Discomfort

This can help reduce discomfort and make the process easier. It is important to use a water-based lubricant rather than an oil-based one since oil-based lubricants can increase the risk of infection.

5. Ask For Support 

If you are uncomfortable with the examination, you can ask to have a female nurse or doctor present. Having a female support person can help make the experience more comfortable.

Finally, it is important to remember to communicate your needs throughout the process. If you are uncomfortable or in pain, make sure to tell your doctor or midwife.

Vaginal exams, as you can see, are a beneficial practice for health professionals during childbirth. Because of the risk of infection and injury, they’re not a recommended practice during pregnancy. Remember that you must inform the professional if you choose not to accept them.

Read Also: Vaginal Delivery – Changes And Complications Overview

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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