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The Pros and Cons of Checking Dilation in Labor: An Evidence-Based Guide for Expectant Moms

Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but it comes with its own set of uncertainties and decisions to make, especially when it comes to labor and delivery. One common practice during labor is checking cervical dilation, but is it always necessary? In this blog post, we'll explore the pros and cons of checking dilation in labor, drawing insights primarily from the Evidence Based Birth website, to help you make informed choices about your birthing experience.

The Pros of Checking Dilation:

  1. Progress Tracking: One of the potential benefits of monitoring cervical dilation is that it can give both yourself and your healthcare providers information about the progress of your labor. This allows them to make appropriate suggestions about your care and the timing of offering support if necessary.

  2. Labor Confirmation: Checking dilation can help confirm that you are indeed in active labor. This reassurance can, if progress has been made, ease anxiety and help you feel more confident about your labor journey.

  3. Support for Epidurals: If you're considering an epidural for pain relief, knowing your dilation can assist in determining the ideal time for its administration, ensuring maximum effectiveness.

The Cons of Checking Dilation:

  1. Inaccuracy: Cervical dilation measurements can be imprecise and subjective, depending on the skill and experience of the healthcare provider. Frequent checks may lead to inconsistent results.

  2. Stress and Anxiety: For some expectant mothers, repeated cervical checks can be uncomfortable and emotionally taxing, potentially slowing down labor due to stress and anxiety. This can be counterproductive to the labor process.

  3. Risk of Infection or PROM: Each cervical check poses a slight risk of introducing bacteria into the birth canal, potentially leading to infection or in some cases, the pre-mature rupture of membranes (PROM), meaning "breaking of the waters". This risk is minimal but worth considering.

Evidence-Based Insights:

Evidence Based Birth emphasizes the importance of informed decision-making during labor. It highlights that while checking dilation can provide valuable information, it should not be routine or mandatory. Instead, it should be discussed and agreed upon with your healthcare provider based on your individual circumstances and preferences.

What Can You Do?

  1. Open Communication: Have an open and honest discussion with your healthcare provider about your preferences regarding cervical checks both in clinic and during your birthing time / while you are in labor. You can discuss if, when and how often you'd like them to be performed, or not performed!

  2. Ask Questions: Don't hesitate to ask questions about the necessity and timing of cervical checks. Understanding the reasons behind each check can empower you to make informed choices. Remember, it is your body and your baby.

  3. Consider Alternatives: Explore alternative ways to monitor labor progress, such as assessing your comfort level, the frequency and intensity of contractions, and your ability to cope with labor.

Remember, the decision to check cervical dilation during labor is a personal one. It's important to weigh the pros and cons, consider your preferences, and engage in open communication with your healthcare provider and birth support companion, doula, or partner. Remember that your birth experience should be tailored to your needs and wishes, and policies on cervical checks in labor can vary widely from care provider to care provider. While one OBGYN may consider cervical checks a very necessary routine, another OBGYN may request their midwives not perform them at all. Evidence Based Birth is an excellent resource to help you make informed decisions ahead of time. Ultimately, trust your instincts and prioritize what feels right for you and your baby as you embark on this incredible journey of childbirth.

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