Vaginal exams during late pregnancy are optional.
Yes, you heard me correctly, optional. Starting at around 36-37 weeks at every visit you will be given a gown to change into so your OB can do a vaginal exam. What is the purpose? To chart something! Yes, they will tell you how dilated you are, but that has NO BEARING on when the baby will be born.
Moms can be 0 cm dilated Wed morning and have a baby in their arms Wed night! Or you can walk around 3cm dilated for 3 weeks.
Here is a great article talking more about this routine of vaginal exams late in pregnancy.
Vaginal Exams during birth
During a hospital birth there are only 2 times you really NEED to have a vaginal exam.
1. When getting to the hospital they would like to check you to make sure you are in active labor. If your water has broken and they can swab to confirm this, you can even skip the vaginal exam (helps keep down the risk of infection)
2. When you have an overwhelming urge to push, you may want to be checked to be sure you are fully dilated.
Other than that, as long as you and baby are ok, you can refuse vaginal exams. Talk to your care provider ahead of time to make sure they are ok with this.
But honestly vaginal exams only say what your cervix is doing and your baby’s station is at THAT moment.
I was reading on Midwives Tale Blog about a nurse who did way TOO many vaginal exams on a poor mom. If the mom had known she could have refused the exams, I am guessing that she would have had a lot less.
Alternatives to Vaginal Exams
Please head over to a great birth blog, Mamas and Babies Blog for a great post about alternatives to vaginal exams. Did you know there were ways to determine how much progress you have made during your birth without a vaginal exam? This post explains those alternatives.