As your due date approaches, you’ll start getting more and more checks by your doctor. Your appointment schedule will increase to every two weeks from around week 30, and then every week from around week 37. In addition to the fetal heartbeat check, you’ll probably have your belly measured as well, and your provider will feel around your stomach to determine the baby’s position. Some doctors might even do a vaginal exam for this, if they’re having trouble determining where the baby is.
You’ll get your group B strep test, and this might also be around the time you’ll start receiving cervical exams. I had my group B test last week, and I expected to get the latter test too. I was surprised to hear my midwife say that she’d only do a cervical exam upon request. So what is the cervical exam, and should you ask for one if you’re not getting it?
The cervical exam is a quick check of the cervix to determine how soft it is. The softness can indicate that you’re closer to labor; we want our cervices soft when the baby is ready to come out. That’s why alternative treatments like raspberry leaf tea and evening primrose oil pills are growing popular; they all help to soften the cervix.
Some doctors might check the cervix earlier in the pregnancy if they have any concerns about early labor. But once you hit 36 or 37 weeks, some might start checking to determine if your body is heading in the right direction.
The reason why my midwife doesn’t perform cervical checks unless asked is because she doesn’t see the point. She believes in letting the baby come out when it’s ready (though she does induce for safety reasons if a patient gets too far past her due date). If the cervix isn’t that soft yet, there isn’t a lot to do, aside from trying the above mentioned treatments and some other methods. She’ll start checking the cervix once patients get past their due date, but up until that point, she believes in letting nature take its course. It’s just not that big of a concern until much closer to the due date.
I chose not to ask for a cervical exam because I agree with the midwife. I was already planning on taking the primrose pills and drinking the tea. I’m trying to have as low-stress of a pregnancy as possible, so constantly checking my body for a preparation my provider isn’t even worried about seems unnecessary. It could just lead me to worry or stress about getting too far past my due date, even if it’s an irrational fear.
If your doctor starts giving you cervical exams, don’t worry: some just do it by routine. But if they don’t happen, don’t be concerned with that either; it seems to be down to the personal preference of your provider. Don’t feel bad asking for them if you want them: it’s always good to be aware what’s going on with your body, especially when pregnant. The information gained from cervical exams is just one more piece that can be interesting or useful, but ultimately isn’t critical until you’ve gone past your due date.
(*The above image by Vlado is from freedigitalphotos.net).