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Three signs of labor progress - without pelvic exams!

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Are there any means to verify labor progress apart from pelvic exams? The answer is definitely yes! However, unfortunately, not everyone is aware of these methods, and even if care providers are aware, they sometimes do not trust them. Pelvic exams have traditionally been used to determine labor progress, and in some countries and settings, they are done as frequently as hourly. But what is the issue with pelvic exams? First of all, giving birth is a very intimate event, the most intimate event in our lives. So, having a stranger insert a finger in our vagina definitely disturbs this intimacy. But birth is not just intimate; it is also driven by intricate hormonal processes, meaning that internal and external factors, such as your feelings, stress level, and surroundings, can impact this process. Think of our hormones as messengers between the mind and the body.

Two of these hormones have a very important role in orchestrating labor. Oxytocin triggers uterine contractions, which restructure the uterus. The fundus, the bottom of the uterus, becomes thick and strong, while the lower part of the uterus becomes thinner, and the cervix becomes as thin as paper and then dilates. The antagonist of oxytocin is adrenaline, or rather adrenaline type hormones. Adrenaline surges in the blood because of stress, and a pelvic exam can be a source of stress. So, what happens is pelvic exams are done too frequently? If pelvic exams are done too frequently, they may increase the level of stress hormones in the blood and as adrenaline prevails over oxytocin, labor may slow down or it may even stop.

Additionally, pelvic exams are an intervention that can increase the risk of infections for both you and your baby, especially if the membranes are already ruptured. When providers claim that a baby needs to be born within a given time frame after the membranes are ruptured, it's not the rupture itself that increases the risk of infection, but rather the vaginal exam. Now, let's explore three alternative methods that can provide valuable insights about labor progress without pelvic exams.

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