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Are You Getting Pre-Labor Cervical Checks?

The title says it all! Are you planning to get the weekly cervical checks that OB-GYNs and many midwives offer beginning at 36 weeks? Or are you going to skip them?

“Please undress from the waist down,” a cheerful nurse instructs me at every appointment. I smile and politely reply that I’m skipping my checks.

Click through to read why I’m skipping cervical checks. 

Actually, I did get one check around 38 weeks. Curiosity got the best of me – I just really wanted to know if I had made any progress at all. I was 2 centimeters and 80% effaced. What does this mean, exactly?

Well, it certainly means something, but it doesn’t mean everything.  It doesn’t give me or my doctor any idea of when I’ll go into labor (case in point – it’s been two weeks since that check, and I’m still pregnant). Many women walk around at 3 centimeters for weeks without labor starting; others are completely closed when they begin to get contractions.

Here’s what the numbers do mean:

  • “You are XX centimeters dilated!”: This number indicates how much your cervix, the neck to your uterus which the baby must pass through to be born, has opened up.  For most of your pregnancy, you will be 0 centimeters. At the pushing stage of labor, you will be 10 centimeters. Most hospitals won’t admit a mom in labor until she is about 4 centimeters.
  • “You are XX percent effaced!”: Effacement is the process in which the cervix softens, shortens and becomes thinner. So the cervix is doing two things: opening up (dilating) and thinning out (effacing). The cervix will be 100% effaced – or completely gone – during the pushing stage.
  • “Your baby is at XX station!”: During the last month of pregnancy, the baby moves down into the mother’s pelvis. How far down the baby is position is called the ‘station’ and can range from -3 to +3. Like dilatation and effacement, station is not a great indicator of when the mother will go into labor.  “A baby is at —3 station when the head is above the pelvis and at 0 station when the head is at the bottom of the pelvis (fully engaged). The baby is at +3 station when the head is beginning to emerge from the birth canal (crowning).” (Source)

So – why am I skipping most of my cervical checks?

  • There is no real point: Especially once I knew that my body was doing something, I realized that I didn’t need to know if I was making ‘progress’ from week to week or not since it didn’t give me any clues about when labor would occur. Instead, I found out knowing the numbers just stressed me out.
  • Estimates can vary: One OB-GYN may say you are 50% effaced, and another could say 70%. It’s not an exact science.
  • It hurts!: I found my cervical check to be painful. I spotted for about 24 hours afterwards.

Vaginal exams can also increase the risk of infection, as explained in this article.

I can understand why someone want to know, but I can also see how others would find it discouraging, especially if they were still weren’t very dilated on their due date.

So – back to my original question: Are You Getting Pre-Labor Cervical Checks?

Read more from Caitlin on Healthy Tipping Point and Operation Beautiful.  Follow all her Babble posts here!

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