Vaginal Exam for Preterm Labor
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
- Find out how much your cervix has opened and
- Find out how far the baby has moved down the birth canal
- 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
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
- Unusual pelvic pressure or back
- Vaginal bleeding.
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
What To Think About
When a vaginal exam is not done to assess for preterm labor
When the amniotic membranes rupture early (preterm premature rupture of membranes, or pPROM), sterile speculum exams are
kept to a minimum, and digital exams are avoided. This is meant to reduce the
risk of infecting the uterus and fetus.
When the placenta is known
to be overlapping or covering the cervix (placenta previa), vaginal exams are completely avoided. Disturbing the placenta
can trigger bleeding.
Complete the medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.
Primary Medical Reviewer
||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
||William Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine
||January 10, 2011