Check Cervical Dilation Without Checking Your Cervix

Is there really a magical way for moms to endure labor without having to endure vaginal exams? Some say the answer is yes.

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Labor and delivery isn't a walk in the park, and many moms agree that one of the most uncomfortable things is getting a vaginal exam to check how much their cervix has dilated.

Guess what? There is another way. The so-called purple line.

I've been a childbirth educator for 15 years and also attended numerous births as a doula. Still, I've never heard of using the purple line as a means for checking dilation until I read about some small studies about it in Mindy Cockeram, L.C.C.E.'s, article on ScienceandSensibility.org. (Full disclosure, I am a member of Lamaze International, the organization that runs the site.)

A few small studies have been done about the purple line that surmise the cause is vasocongestion — increased blood flow to the natal cleft area between the buttocks during labor. The location and darkness of the line may indicate how far along you are in labor.

Still not convinced the purple line in labor is a thing?

Cockeram says, "I have had many partners look for it and have acquired quite the library of purple line photos."

Now, if the idea of your doctor, midwife or doula checking your butt crack, er, your natal cleft, freaks you out, think about how much less invasive this way of checking how far along you are in labor is versus a vaginal exam.

As with anything else when it comes to labor and delivery, the purple line may not be 100 percent accurate. Neither is the traditional way of checking cervical dilation. It's also not common practice for doctors and midwives to do this.

Cockeram says, "I think women should let care providers know that they want to be examined internally as little as possible — offering up the line as an indicator or even substitute. If care providers are unaware of the line's existence, many will find the 'line' a curious thing and explore it further academically. Some care providers will embrace the alternative as a new tool; others will prefer the certainty of something they already know. Women should certainly have the conversation about its use and usefulness in other countries — and its accuracy to those skilled in reading it."

Do moms really get the purple line in labor?

Checking for the purple line may not be common practice during labor and delivery, but some providers know about it and even check for it.

Midwife Harmony Miller says, "It is there every time without fail. Sure sign of complete cervical dilation."

Midwife Kristin Johnson Schuchmann adds, "It is often too dark in the room to see the line; but, when there is enough light, I look for it and, sure enough, it is there. I love that there are noninvasive ways to assess the progress of dilation!"

Bottom line? You're probably going to need a vaginal exam during labor, but it's worth asking to check for the purple line.

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