6 Ways to Gage Your Dilation WITHOUT a Vaginal Exam

6 Ways to Gage Your Dilation WITHOUT a Vaginal Exam

Vaginal Exams

I think it's safe to say that 100% of women would rather not have a vaginal exam. The only benefit is getting some valuable information as to how labor is progressing.

So what if you could assess how dilated you were without having to have an internal exam? 

Yeah, my hand is raised too, that's the option I would choose.

A few things to know about vaginal exams that is worth knowing:

  • A vaginal exam is a snapshot of that exact moment. Just because you are dilated to a certain cm is not an accurate method to measure how much time you have left in your labor. It's informative but the cervix could change rapidly or stay the same for hours. I know plenty of moms who have dilated from 5cm to 10 cm in less than an hour. And some that have been at a 6cm for several hours.
  • The assessment of the dilation is dependent on the interpretation of whom is checking. If you have different people checking you may get different answers.
  • If your water breaks, we suggest you decline vaginal exams until active labor is established. One of the concerns with a broken amniotic sac is infection. If nothing crosses the vaginal barrier, including a sterile gloved hand, the chances of infection goes waaay down.
  • MENTAL GAME. this is the biggest one. Vaginal Exams and knowing your dilation can be a mental game. You could be doing really well, feeling the intensity of the contractions and knowing your body is working hard. Maybe you imagine that by how you feel you have to be at a certain dilation. Then you get a vaginal exam and it's less than you thought. It can be crushing. It can quickly deflate all your motivation, then you have to work harder to get your stamina back. If you know that might be an issue for you, you can absolutely decline vaginal exams.


  1. Purple bottom line: there is a purple line that is in a women’s bottom crack starting near the anus that grows up towards her back as she dilates.

  2. The xiphoid process: At the beginning of Labor your will be able to fit 5 fingered between the cartilage at the base of your sternum (bra line) and the top of your uterus. As labor and dilation progresses you’ll be able to fit less and less fingers between. Check during the height of a contraction 3 fingers is about 5cm dilated and only 1 finger is fully dilated.alternative ways to tell dilation

  3. Sound: How a women talks and interacts will change throughout the stages of labor. The later stages there is often an involuntary moans or deep guttural sounds.

  4. Smell: there is a smell to birth that hits right towards the end of dilation. It’s an ancient smell. One article I read described the smell as mowed hay, semen, and dampness. It’s very subtle but if you are aware of it you’ll notice it.

  5. Irrationality: often a sign of transition which is near when the cervix is completely dilated. The mama will make comments that are fairly irrational like wanting to leave or escape. She may express that she didn’t want a baby anyway. I had one mama question if there really was a baby in there. Irrationality is a great sign things are getting close so help mama have confidence that she is doing a great job.

  6. The gooey stuff: you might be familiar with the term “bloody show” usually you notice excessive mucus with streaks of red after you go to the bathroom. Typically there is a show are 2-3cm dilation which can even be a couple days before labor. But then there is another show around 8cm. Which is a great sign that birth is near.


I want to talk for a quick second about transition. You hear about it all the time, but what is it and why does it happen?

Transition usually happens around the 7-8cm dilation mark. It's a dip hormones.

All the oxytocin, adrenaline, and every other hormone that had been sustaining you up until this point dips down and women often feel: the need to escape, or be done. Or sometimes they vomit, or have a change in temperature. And sometimes "transition" doesn't affect the mama at all.

But the important thing to know is right after this dip in hormones the body provides a big boost of adrenaline. It's with this adrenaline that helps mom to push her baby out and gets her to the finish line.

Our bodies are pretty dang cool!


Here is the video where we go into further detail about each of these 6 ways:

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