Early labor sends women running to the hospital way before it's really time to go. Most women go to the hospital too early because the contractions are uncomfortable and they don't know how far dilated they are. Checking your own cervix can reassure you when it's the right time--and make you feel more comfortable about staying home longer to battle out early labor patterns. Here are the steps to checking for dilation.
Make sure that your nails are short and your hands are clean. Long fingernails may hurt during a cervical check. Make sure that you file them down so there are no pointy parts of the nail. If you are going to just use your hand, it is best to scrub your fingers and underneath your fingernails. If you have sterile gloves you can use those too. Just make sure that they fit snugly around your fingers so that you can get an accurate feel without the glove bunching up.
Sit on something comfortable such as a chair or the side of the bed. Once you are sitting, you need to prop up one leg. For example, if you will be checking your cervix with your right hand, then you will need to put your left leg up on a stool or the railing of the bed so that you can get to your cervix easier.
Put lubricant on two fingers and insert them into the vagina. Gently push them towards the back like you are going towards your buttocks. You will eventually feel your cervix. During labor, your cervix is generally soft and may already be effacing and dilating. You will gently feel around for the opening of the cervix. You will know you found the opening when you feel an indenture. You can then feel if it is open or closed. You may not be able to tell exactly how far you are dilated, but you can establish what it feels like with your fingers. If you choose to labor at home for a few more hours, try to feel for dilation again and see if there has been any change.
After you finish the exam, slide your fingers out. If you have a glove on, pull it off inside out so that the fluids stay on the inside of the glove. Throw the glove away, preferably in a trash bag that you can tie off and discard when you are ready.
Always wash your hands before and after doing an exam. Anytime you put your fingers into your vagina, you are introducing potential bacteria. Washing your hands can help prevent this. Be aware that doing exams may contribute to a little vaginal bleeding due to irritation of the cervix. Look at pictures of a cervix so that you can become familiar with what it looks like. This will give you a better idea of what you are feeling for.
Do not do frequent examinations. One exam every few hours is usually enough. It is best not to do examinations after your membranes have ruptured, to reduce the risk of infection. If you have doubt about whether or not your cervix is dilating, get checked by a healthcare provider.