Vaginal Exams are a part of pregnancy. Find out what they are used for, if they hurt, how it’s done, and what the numbers mean when you’re in labor.
Ugh! The vag (pronounced v-a (short a) g) exam. No one looks forward to them.
The gown, the glove, the whole checking part.
BUT, then you end up with numbers and you have no idea what they mean.
Today we’re going to explore the process, tell you what the numbers mean and how you can understand them!
One of the reasons I wrote this post, is because doctors simply don’t have the time to educate you (or choose not to) — that’s why you need a prenatal class. I recommend this one.
The Online Prenatal class for Couples is for busy couples who lack time and knowledge about the birthing process to get quick, engaging and accurate prenatal education so they can have a more relaxed pregnancy & birth.
I totally recommend this one. It is…
- You can even save 10% with code PC10.
Vaginal Exam Video
Btw, I’m not ACTUALLY doing an exam in this video — and don’t miss the rest of the article underneath it:
**Wondering if you’re in labor — don’t miss my VERY popular page – “Am I in Labor” that gives all the details!
My sister site also has a post on when cervical exams begin.
Cervix in Pregnancy
As a reminder, Cervical Exams (or vaginal exams) consist of:
- Centimeters Dilated (given as a number)
- Effacement (given as a percentage)
- Station (given as a positive or negative small number)
So — if your doctor says you’re 2, 90% and -3 — that means:
You’re open 2 centimeters, your cervix is pretty darn thinned out and the baby is still pretty high.
Normally, women’s cervixes thin out before they open up.
Other key points from this video:
- You have 3 holes — you’d be surprised (or, maybe you wouldn’t) how many women I have to explain that to at delivery. You have a hole you urinate out of (urethra), one you have BM’s from (rectum) and your baby exit area (vagina).
- Every practitioner (nurse, doctor, midwife) may vary a bit on their cervical exams.
- Your cervix starts as closed, and you can push when you’re 10 cm.
Can you do a Vaginal Exam Yourself?
Frankly, I wouldn’t try — for a few reasons:
- It would be really hard to get deep enough into your vaginal around your baby without hurting yourself
- If you haven’t ever felt a cervix before, it’s going to be hard to know what you’re feeling when you’re in labor.
However, they recommend you check your IUD strings every month, so it IS possible (as those are in your cervix)…. but I don’t know how much info you’d get if you’re a virgin examiner. It takes many exams for a nurse to know what they’re feeling.
Vaginal Exams in Labor
Things I didn’t mention in the video that might be helpful to know:
- Usually, your cervix is posterior (more towards your tailbone) when you are in early labor/not in labor and then it moves forward as you progress into labor
- Early in your pregnancy you will need to get a pap smear as well as some cultures, those are different than a cervical exam (although they’re all done in your vagina)
- When the doctor “strips your membranes” it is a vaginal exam where he takes his finger and separates the bag of waters from your cervix. This stirs up hormones and may help you into labor (you can read more about that here).
- We use a sterile glove to check you. Newflash: Your vagina isn’t sterile. However, in the medical setting we would like to keep any new bacteria out of your vagina.
- If your cervix is extremely posterior (more towards your tailbone) we may have you put your fists under your bottom, or use an overturned bed pan for you to sit on to make your cervix more reachable. All of that is normal.
- An epidural does take away the majority of the pain from a vaginal exam.
- You may bleed a little after a vaginal exam, this is normal.
Is a vaginal exam painful?
- Cervical exams can be painful, but the more you tense up, the worse they are. By relaxing those muscles you are going to be a lot more comfortable, it will be quicker and that is good news for everyone.
- Cervical exams are more painful when you are in early labor/not in labor than they are as you progress (because your pelvic floor relaxes as well as cervix moving forward making it easier to reach).
If you liked this post/video — be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to be alerted to any other upcoming posts.
I have a whole podcast on refusing cervical exams that you might find helpful:
I also have a hospital checklist below and check out my other pregnancy posts below that!
Or, check out my other posts with video: