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Cervical Exam in Late Pregnancy: What to Expect

written by: Kecia • edited by: BStone • updated: 3/16/2011

A cervical exam in late pregnancy may be performed to check a few things regarding the progress of the cervix. It involves a couple minutes of your doctor's fingers checking the positioning, effacement and dilation. You may experience a bit of discomfort following the procedure.

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    Why Cervical Exams Are Performed

    Gynecologists usually want to check the cervix in the third trimester for a few reasons. With this test, they can determine the positioning of the baby. Most can tell by looking at the mother’s abdomen if the baby is head down, but sometimes positioning can make it difficult. Therefore, the doctor may need to feel for the baby’s head at the cervix. They can also tell the station of the baby, which is the measurement of how far the baby has “dropped."

    As the pregnancy nears the end, the cervix begins to efface, or thin out, and open. A cervical exam in late pregnancy can help determine how far the process has gone. For a woman to give birth, her cervix must be 100 percent effaced and ten centimeters dilated, or opened. Keeping a check on this can provide the doctor with a progress report of nature taking place.

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    What to Expect During a Cervical Exam

    When you have a cervical exam performed, you will have to remove your clothing from the waist down. Most gynecologist rooms have a table with stirrups at the foot. These will be put into place and you will be instructed to place a foot in each one. The doctor will apply a lubricant to a gloved hand, and insert two fingers inside your vagina to reach the cervix. The process usually takes 30 seconds to one minute, as the doctor needs to measure the effacement and dilation with his/her fingers. When finished, the doctor will remove his/her fingers and the exam is over.

    It’s possible to experience a bit of bleeding after a cervical exam, no matter when it is performed. Poking and prodding from a doctor can cause a slight irritation in the area that can be enough to make it bleed. Some blood will not be apparent until two to three days following the procedure, at which time it may appear brown on the toilet tissue. This is usually no cause for concern, but you may want to speak with your doctor about it just in case.

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    What Cervical Exams Do Not Check

    A cervical exam in late pregnancy cannot tell the progress of labor. It can only tell what is occurring at the exact moment that the procedure is done. The findings of a cervical exam are not used as an accurate method to guess when delivery will occur. It is possible to be 90 percent effaced and two centimeters dilated by the 36th week of pregnancy, and then stop there until the day of labor. In other cases, you may only be 50 percent effaced and one centimeter dilated and have the baby within a week.

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    What if My Gynecologist Doesn't Do Cervical Exams?

    Some gynecologists see no reason to perform cervical exams unless special circumstances warrant a check. If your doctor doesn’t want to do this exam, do not worry that you may have something wrong and he/she is neglecting it. These exams primarily demonstrate the effacement and dilation, they are not necessary for forecasting problems with labor or delivery.