Internal vaginal examinations
Vaginal examinations are often referred to as a VE and are generally used to:
- See if you are in active labour on arrival to the hospital or birthplace.
- Check to see if the waters have broken.
- Check the progress of labour at intervals (usually every 4 hours or so).
- Check the position of the baby, if your caregiver is unsure how the baby is lying by feeling your pregnant belly. The cervix needs to be at least 3 to 4 cms dilated to achieve this.
- Help you and / or your caregiver make decisions about interventions or pain relief.
- Break the waters to speed up labour or to put an internal fetal monitor on the baby's head to monitor their heart rate.
Vaginal examinations can be encouraging if the cervix is dilating. For some women they help them to pace themselves or motivate them if they know they are 'getting there'. However, other women find internal examinations very disheartening, especially if they feel they have done a lot of work, only to hear their caregiver say "You are only 1cm dilated."
Not all women (and caregivers) require regular internal vaginal examinations. If you feel your body is giving you enough information and the labour appears to be progressing normally, then they are not absolutely necessary. Many women give birth without ever requiring an internal examination during their labour.
Ideally, vaginal examinations should be limited to at least 4 hours apart or more. This is especially so if the waters have broken, to reduce the chances of infection. Vaginal examinations may be done more often than this if there are complications, or decisions need to be made about pain relief or interventions.