When a women goes into labour her cervix starts to open (dilate), and it needs to open to about 10cm so that the baby can be born.
It has become routine to offer women vaginal examinations during labour to measure how dilated their cervix is as a way of establishing the progress of their labour.
Note that I said they are 'offered' to women. You have a choice, and are welcome to say 'yes' or 'no'.
Why would you say no? There are many reasons why women say no, some find the idea distressing or uncomfortable. I had one during my first birth, it was uncomfortable but I got the reassuring news that I was 8cm, which seemed to shock the midwife (I was very relaxed and calm because I was using Hypnobirthing techniques). During my second birth I had none. The midwife was extremely experienced and happy to use visual cues to tell how my labour was progressing.
Interestingly, a 2013 Cochrane Review had this to say about vaginal examinations:
"We identified no convincing evidence to support, or reject, the use of routine vaginal examinations in labour, yet this is common practice throughout the world. More research is needed to find out if vaginal examinations are a useful measure of both normal and abnormal labour progress. If vaginal examination is not a good measure of progress, there is an urgent need to identify and evaluate an alternative measure to ensure the best outcome for mothers and babies."
So basically, we don't know if vaginal examinations are a good way of checking the progress of labour but the NHS uses them routinely anyway. If you don't want them then say no. Sometimes women find themselves under pressure to conform to routine practices on the day, which is not ideal, but that's another blog post. A supportive, knowledgeable birth partner and/or doula will advocate for you.
If the idea of vaginal examinations doesn't phase you then think about how many you'd like. Just one when you arrive at the hospital or birth centre, or when the midwife arrives at your home, or are you happy to have them every four hours, as some hospital guidelines suggest? You can always chat to your midwife at your next appointment and ask how often they are routinely offered, and take it from there.
If you'd like to learn more about labour and birth, and for your birth partner to learn to be amazing during your pregnancy and labour, check out details of my hypnobirthing classes.
Photo by Torsten Mangner, CC BY 2.0
I'm Liz Dew, founder of SheffieldHypnobirthing.com and I love a good chat about birth. This blog is where I explore some of the things that I find amazing, frustrating, or fascinating about birth and birth culture. Grab a cuppa and dive in.