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Vaginal Examination During Normal Labor: Routine Examination or Routine Intervention?

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Despite a continuing lack of good quality studies of the effect of routine vaginal examination, it is often routinely used in clinical practice. Indeed, internationally respected authorities such as the U. K. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) continue to recommend the offer of a vaginal examination when a woman enters a hospital in suspected established labor and 4 hourly vaginal examinations as labor progresses. In this article, we explore historical and clinical drivers for the widespread implementation of routine vaginal examination in labor to predominantly assess the dilation of the cervical os and examine some of the reasons for continuing use of the procedure, current critiques of its routine use, and possible alternatives for assessing labor progress. We discuss the possibility that both covert and overt knowledge operate in the assessment of labor progress, and we consider the consequent potential for dissonance between what midwives actually do and what they record as having been done. The final discussion theorizes these findings and suggests alternative ways of framing labor progress for the future.
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Keywords: BEHAVIORAL CUES; CERVICAL DILATION; LABOR PROGRESS; VAGINAL EXAMINATION

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2013-09-01

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  • The International Journal of Childbirth is a peer-reviewed, quarterly journal publishing original research, reviews, and case studies concerned with the practice of midwifery, women's health, prenatal care, and the birth process. The journal encourages the exploration of the complex and contextual issues surrounding childbirth provision and outcomes and invites manuscripts from a wide range of clinical, theoretical, political, methodological, psychological, public health, policy, and multicultural and interdisciplinary perspectives.
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