Vaginal examinations, a VE, is the term used to describe an internal examination of the vagina. In labour, VE’s are often done to help access dilatation of the cervix, & position of the baby.
Your care provider will insert 2 fingers into your vagina, while you are laying on your back (in most cases) with your knees up & apart & your ankles together- similar to when you have had a cervical screening. This is often quite an uncomfortable position for labouring women.
The cervix is often found about a short fingers length into the vagina, however before the body is ready to birth it can be found further behind (posterior) & as your labour progresses the cervix moves forward & down.
There is no evidence to support VE’s in women who are not in labour, unless there is a specific reason, such as booking for induction, or post 40 weeks gestation & the woman has consented to a membrane stretch + sweep.
There is no need to ‘just check’ your cervix while pregnant, as there is no solid correlation between cervical changes & estimated labour commencement, & it increases the risk of introducing infection.
Most hospitals will have the protocol that women will be offered a VE on admission, and then every 4 hours (or sooner if medically indicated) while in active labour. This is to check cervical progress. This is standard practice in most health care settings.
The interesting thing is the assumed rate the cervix will dilate really has no set evidence behind it.
So why do we do so many VE’s in practice?
Good question, & one to ask your care providers about in pregnancy & discuss with your partner about how you feel about this being done.
At a time when oxytocin (the love hormone) is queen, & we need women to feel safe, loved + supported, maybe having a strangers hands inserted into your vagina isn’t what you were hoping for?!
Do your own research on why this practice is there.
Acknowledge there are times when VE’s are super important & can be a necessary part of birth.You should always be verbally consented before any VE. You can always refuse or ask further questions.