Birth Definitions

Palpation Definition


Palpation is a medical term referring to the examination of the body by touch. It is most commonly used in the fields of pregnancy and childbirth, where it is used to assess the size, position, and consistency of the pregnant uterus. Palpation can also be used to check for any lumps or swellings in other parts of the body.

There are two main types of palpation: abdominal and vaginal. Abdominal palpation is when the examiner feels the abdomen through the clothes. It is generally not considered as accurate as vaginal palpation, but it can be useful in certain situations, such as when the woman is very overweight or pregnant with twins.

Vaginal palpation is when the examiner inserts their fingers into the vagina in order to feel the uterus directly. This method is more accurate than abdominal palpation, but it can be uncomfortable for the woman and may cause some discomfort or pain.

Risks and complications related to palpation include: infection, trauma to the tissue, uterine rupture and preterm labor.


Palpation should not be confused with a percussive tap which is also sometimes called “palpation.” Percussive tap involves tapping on the patient’s body with fingers or a light instrument to assess internal organs by listening to the resulting sound waves.

Other Terms Related to Palpation

Dilation and Effacement:

The process of the cervix opening and thinning in preparation for childbirth is called dilation and effacement. Palpation can be used to assess how dilated and effaced the cervix is.

Fundal height:

Fundal height is the measurement of the distance from the top of the uterus to the pubic symphysis. It can be measured using palpation or by ultrasound.

Bishop score:

The Bishop score is a scoring system used to assess the readiness of the cervix for childbirth. It takes into account five factors: dilation, effacement, station, consistency, and position. A score of 10 or more is considered favorable for induction of labor.

This image shows how often the term ‘Palpation’ is used in relation to other, similar birth terms:

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