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Vaginal Exam for Preterm Labor

Overview

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.
  • Vaginal bleeding.

Results

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).

Credits

Current as of: February 11, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

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