Measuring the bump

You might have been wondering what your midwife does and feels when she feels your pregnant belly. During an antenatal visit, your midwife will ask to feel your pregnant belly. The medical term for this is palpation, often referred to by midwives and obstetricians as an abdominal palpation. The aim of regularly feeling your belly is to monitor the changing size of your uterus and the growth and position of your baby as the pregnancy progresses. Palpation does not hurt your baby because they are surrounded by a cushion of amniotic fluid.

Your midwife will measure your belly from the top of your uterus (womb) to your pubic bone, and the measurement in cm ought to equal the number of weeks that you are pregnant, +/- 2cm. this means that at 34 weeks, it would be fine for your uterus to measure anywhere between 32 and 36cm.

If your bump measures much more or less than what was expected, your midwife might discuss with you whether an ultrasound scan is needed.

The size of your uterus should continue to grow, reaching the base of your sternum by 36+ weeks, and as your baby’s head engages deeply in your pelvis, your uterus will come down a bit lower.

After 36 weeks, your midwife will also be interested to know if your baby’s head has engaged. This is when the largest part of your baby's head is within your pelvis, so that only a small amount of your baby's head can be felt outside of your uterus.

Although engagement of your baby’s head does not mean your labour will start any time soon, it is a very good sign that you will birth normally and healthily. Your baby's head can engage anytime from 1 to 4 weeks before the birth, and if you have had a baby before, it might not engage until labour starts.

Your midwife will also feel the position of the baby, which is important in labour.

The most important thing about having your midwife feel your belly is to have the same midwife do it every time.  We each measure slightly differently, and what is important is the differing results from one care provider, rather than the differing results between care providers. This is where private midwifery care really benefits women and babies.

After about 14 weeks, your midwife may also ask to listen to your baby’s heartbeat, and this is something that most women are excited to hear.

If your midwife listens to your baby’s heartbeat and is concerned by what s/he hears, s/he may discuss with you whether some additional monitoring is needed, and this is usually done by way of CTG, which is a machine that monitors and records every heart beat for 20-30 minutes.

Learn more about private midwifery care and shared care.