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  • Writer's pictureDoula Tracy

Vaginal Exams

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

Vaginal Exams are, at best, offered during labour, but usually women are told they need to have a VE to assess how their labour is progressing.

Because a Maternity Unit, Hospital or Midwife has a predetermined time interval for carrying out Vaginal Exams, or there is a particular protocol for them to abide by, DOES NOT mean a woman has to consent!

Are Vaginal Exams Necessary?

Here are some of the reasons that women are told they need a Vaginal Exam.

  • At the beginning of the labouring woman's care, to get a base-line of where her labour is at.

  • If labour is not progressing according to how the woman's care provider wants.

  • After an intervention, such as Induction, to see if it is having the desired effect.

  • If there is concern about the health of baby or mum. ***

  • If there is excessive vaginal bleeding. ***

  • If baby's heart rate needs accurate monitoring with a scalp monitor.***


The reasons marked with *** are the only reasons for when a VE is necessary. Although a woman can still decline a VE at any point, it is likely that in the event of a genuine medical concern, she would consent.

Can labour progress be assessed any other way?

The way in which women behave during labour can give us a clear indication of how their labour is progressing.

In early labour, it is likely that she can continue to carry out some chores, bake, sew, look after siblings etc.

She will be able to hold a conversation and be involved with what is going on around her.

As labour progresses, the labouring woman's focus becomes more internal. She concentrates on what her body is doing. Doulas like to call it going to 'labour land.'

Her breathing and sounds change.

She may lose her inhibitions and not care that her body is exposed.

Or, she may withdraw to somewhere private, like her toilet. She may turn to a wall and position herself away from others.

Physically, her anal cleft, or bum crack, may develop a silvery or purple line. The longer the line, the more dilated she is.

At some point, after being in control and focused, the birthing woman may lose her shiz!!! This is when we know she is close to birthing her baby.

Survivors of sexual abuse

It is important to mention here how difficult and triggering it can be for women who have a history of sexual abuse when they are TOLD by a care giver ,"I'm just going to do a Vaginal Exam to see if you are in labour/how you are progressing."

It is absolutely vital that consent is obtained from all women, and only after the woman understands the procedure and its pros and cons.

That means BEFORE labour starts.

As labour endures, a woman's frame of mind may not be conducive to consenting to, or delclining a procedure.

And Finally

  • It is illegal to do a VE without consent.

  • A VE could result in the woman's membranes rupturing.

  • Having VE's increases the risk of mum or baby getting an infection.

  • VE's can be uncomfortable.

  • If the woman is in a birth pool or bath, she will need to get out to have the VE.

  • VE'S are performed whilst a woman is on her back, on a bed. 2 gloved fingers are inserted into the vagina and moved around to determine dilation of the cervix and position of baby's head.

  • An assessment of how dilated a woman is does not give any indication to how long labour will be. Some women go from 4-10cm in a couple of hours, others in a couple of days!

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