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 professional to:
Vaginal exams are done when a pregnant woman has:
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 dilated (open).
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.
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