What Is Fetal Station?

Diagram of the station the pelvis and the baby

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What Is Fetal Station?

Fetal station is something your doctor may check as your pregnancy delivery date nears. The fetal station is a measurement of how far the baby has descended in the pelvis, measured by the relationship of the fetal head to the ischial spines (sit bones). The ischial spines are approximately 3 to 4 centimeters inside the vagina and are used as the reference point for the station score.

Station is a measurement of fetal descent in labor and is measured using vaginal exams. It usually isn't measured until the last few weeks of pregnancy or you may not hear it discussed until you are in labor.

Why It’s Important

The station number is one of the signs of progression in labor. When labor begins, some women will have a baby who is fairly high in the pelvis with a station of -2. Other women start labor with a baby that is engaged at a 0 station, or lower. In the case of fetal station, lower in the pelvis (and closer to the vaginal opening) means a positive number.

You might hear someone say the baby is coming down, which is a positive change in station of your baby. The station of your baby really starts to change once you are pushing.

Measurement of fetal station is important when a forceps delivery is being considered. The baby must have progressed to an appropriate station for forceps delivery, as defined by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

How It's Determined

The measurement of fetal station by a vaginal exam is somewhat subjective and there can be variation between practitioners. The doctor feels for the baby's head and determines where it is relative to the ischial spines. Ultrasound might also be used to help determine the fetal station.

The difference between numbers in the score is equivalent to the length in centimeters. Moving from +1 to +2 is a movement of about 1 centimeter.

Fetal Station Numbers

Fetal station is stated in negative and positive numbers.

  • -5 station is a floating baby
  • -3 station is when the head is above the pelvis
  • 0 station is when the head is at the bottom of the pelvis, also known as being fully engaged 
  • +3 station is within the birth canal
  • +5 station is crowning

Fetal Station and Bishop Score

Fetal station is also one of the five components of the Bishop score, which used to evaluate the cervix's readiness for labor and to predict whether you will need to have labor induced. The other factors in the score are also determined by the vaginal examination. They include cervical dilation, cervical effacement, cervical consistency, and cervical position.

A Bishop score of 10 (out of a possible 13) or more indicates the cervix is ripe and you are likely to have spontaneous labor and delivery. A score of 8 or more indicates you are a good candidate for induction, while a score of under 6 indicates you are less likely to go into labor soon and induction is less favorable. A score of 3 or less denotes a cervix that is unfavorable for an induction unless a cervical ripening agent is used.

A commonly used modified Bishop score uses just station, dilation, and effacement instead. With this more simplified scoring system, a score of 5 or more (out of 9) indicates cervical ripeness. Preference of the doctor, the specifics of your pregnancy and medical history, and other factors will determine which scoring method is used.

A Word From Verywell

Fetal station is just one of the factors that indicate progress in childbirth. It always helps to have more information and understand the terminology of labor, but know that every delivery is different and that your baby's station can shift quickly. If you have questions or concerns, ask your doctor or midwife.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health (UK). Induction of Labour. London: RCOG Press; 2008 Jul. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 70.) Appendix B, Bishop score.

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Assisted vaginal delivery. Reviewed April 2019.

  3. Wormer KC, Bauer A, Williford AE. Bishop Score. StatPearl. Updated September 10, 2020.

Additional Reading
  • Takeda S, Takeda J, Koshiishi T, Makino S, Kinoshita K. Fetal station based on the trapezoidal plane and assessment of head descent during instrumental delivery. Hypertension Research in Pregnancy. 2014;2(2):65-71. doi:10.14390/jsshp.2.65.