How is abdominal exam performed to evaluate normal labor?

Updated: Jan 24, 2019
  • Author: Sarah Hagood Milton, MD; Chief Editor: Christine Isaacs, MD  more...
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Answer

Answer

Physical examination should include documentation of the patient's vital signs, the fetus' presentation, and assessment of the fetal well-being. The frequency, duration, and intensity of uterine contractions should be assessed, particularly the abdominal and pelvic examinations in patients who present in possible labor.

Abdominal examination begins with the Leopold maneuvers described below [2] :

  • The initial maneuver involves the examiner placing both of his or her hands on each upper quadrant of the patient's abdomen and gently palpating the fundus with the tips of the fingers to define which fetal pole is present in the fundus. If it is the fetus' head, it should feel hard and round. In a breech presentation, a large, nodular body is felt.

  • The second maneuver involves palpation in the paraumbilical regions with both hands by applying gentle but deep pressure. The purpose is to differentiate the fetal spine (a hard, resistant structure) from its limbs (irregular, mobile small parts) to determinate the fetus' position.

  • The third maneuver is suprapubic palpation by using the thumb and fingers of the dominant hand. As with the first maneuver, the examiner ascertains the fetus' presentation and estimates its station. If the presenting part is not engaged, a movable body (usually the fetal occiput) can be felt. This maneuver also allows for an assessment of the fetal weight and of the volume of amniotic fluid.

  • The fourth maneuver involves palpation of bilateral lower quadrants with the aim of determining if the presenting part of the fetus is engaged in the mother's pelvis. The examiner stands facing the mother's feet. With the tips of the first 3 fingers of both hands, the examiner exerts deep pressure in the direction of the axis of the pelvic inlet. In a cephalic presentation, the fetus' head is considered engaged if the examiner's hands diverge as they trace the fetus' head into the pelvis.


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