Is It Necessary?

When you finish your eighth month of pregnancy, your care provider may want to do internal exams to check for dilation and effacement. Are they really necessary?

Vaginal exam

For many pregnant moms, as they approach their 36th week of pregnancy, their physician or midwife may start talking about doing internal exams to check for cervical dilation and effacement. While it can tell you some useful information, does it really make any difference?

Dilation and effacement

As your pregnancy nears its end, your cervix will begin to go from tightly closed to 10 centimeters dilated. And it will go from thick and firm to super soft and paper thin -- called effacement.

The process is not a picnic by any means, but it can start weeks before your baby is born, giving you a head start on labor and delivery -- a head start you’ll appreciate once labor begins. And often moms who have already had a baby or two can get a nice-sized head start -- I was 3 centimeters for a week before my fourth baby was born.

Necessary?

But is it really necessary? My doctor would check me near the end of my pregnancy, and he’d always say that it didn’t mean anything as far as my likelihood of going into labor. The main reason cited is so that when you go into the hospital in labor, the staff can compare where you are at that point to where you were at your last doctor visit -- to “be in labor,” the staff at many hospitals has to have proof of cervical change.

However, not only are they uncomfortable, there is always a risk of introducing infection with repeated vaginal exams and many moms opt out of them. It can also disturb your natural progression as well -- some doctors try to “get something started” with a pelvic exam.

While cervical checks are important if your practitioner feels you may be starting labor early, they aren’t that useful for moms who are full term. I admit I enjoyed seeing if I'd made any progress, but I'm not convinced they're necessary. What do you think?

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