One article we got during my Bradley class was focused on teaching you to notice outward signs of how far dilated you are without doing a vaginal exam. Allowing too many vaginal exams can really discourage a laboring mom (what I am not past 4 yet??!!) and invite bacteria in each time.
So here are some tips it gives on how to assess the progress you are making during labor:
1. Sound: During early labor, you can still talk normally and chat in between contractions. Once active labor starts, you probably wont talk during contractions and seem in your own world in between as well. Once you get to transition, you will completely be in your own world and oblivious to those around you. This means you are about to start pushing.
2. Smell: There is a smell that comes around the end of dilation. It is a mix between mown hay, semen, and dampness.
3. Irrationality: This is a sign of hitting transition. You will begin saying things that make no sense or are the exact opposite of what you were saying. Its a good sign that you will be pushing soon.
4. Feel: When your uterus starts thinning and dilating, the muscles of the uterus bunch up at the top of it. During a contraction, at the beginning of labor, check how many fingers you can fit between the fundus (top of the bump) and the bra line- you will prob be able to fit 5 fingers. When you can fit 3 fingers head to the hospital, you are prob 5 cm dilated. And at 1 finger you are fully dilated.
5. Look: There is a shadow that extends from the anus up towards the back along the crease of the buttocks, which is called the 'bottom line'. It begins at 1 cm and lengthens to 10cm, and its length coordinates with cervical dilation.
6. Gooey Stuff: The bloody show. (This is different than the mucus plug.) Usually this happens around 2-3 cm dilated and then a 2nd time around 8 cm dilated. It is up to a couple tablespoons in quantity, and can be clear but is usually streaked with pink, brown, or bright blood. The 2nd show means labor is very near.
7. Opening of the Back: This is the spot above the tailbone and it will bulge out just before pushing.
So there are some ways you can try to assess how your labor is going. Do not get caught up on numbers but instead look for other signs that your body is doing what it needs to do to get that baby safely out!