Sterile vaginal exams

During labor, your health professional will examine your progress by putting on sterile gloves and inserting his or her fingers into your vagina. This allows the health professional to:

  • Assess the baby's position, whether head-first (vertex) or bottom-first (breech), and determine how far the baby has moved down the birth canal (station).
  • Gently push on the baby's head with one finger. If the head can be pushed back, the baby is still floating (ballotable). If the head cannot be pushed back and is low in the pelvis, the head is engaged.
  • Determine how much your cervix has thinned (effaced) and opened (dilated). How dilated and stretched your cervix is during contractions can be helpful in predicting the speed of your labor.
  • Check whether the baby is facing toward your navel or toward your backbone in the birth canal. This can only be done after your water (amniotic sac) breaks (ruptures). A baby facing toward the mother's navel sometimes has a slower, more difficult time moving down the birth canal.

Last Updated: January 7, 2010

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