Waiting to go into labor can be challenging. When the estimated due date comes and goes on the calendar and you are still pregnant, you and/or your care provider might consider induction of labor. However, other providers and families decide to wait for labor to begin on its own. The decision about labor induction should be one that is a shared decision made between you and your provider.
If the plan is for an induction, there are a few options different option. Some are considered more natural and other are artificial. When it comes to the natural options for inducing labor, stripping (also called sweeping) of the membranes is one of the options
What is membrane stripping?
- Membrane stripping is also called membrane sweeping or cervical sweep.
- Membrane stripping is the removal of the membranes between the amniotic sac and the lower uterine segment.
- When these membranes are removed, they can lead to the production of the hormone oxytocin which can begin the process of labor.
How is membrane stripping done?
- Membrane stripping is usually done in your provider’s office during a prenatal appointment.
- In order to strip the membranes, your cervix must be opened or dilated enough that they can insert a fingertip (usually 1cm)
- For the membrane stripping, your care provider will insert a sterile gloved finger into your vagina. They will put their finger into your cervix and sweep it around in order to remove the membranes that are attached between the amniotic sac and your cervix or lower uterine wall.
- Sometimes a provider will also use their finger(s) to stretch your cervix at the same time. This can be called a cervical stretch and sweep.
What are the risks?
- Stripping the membranes can start some cramping that can then turn into labor, but it can also sometimes create an extended early phase of labor.
- During the sweeping of the membranes, your provider can accidentally rupture your membranes (break your water).
- Any time you have a vaginal exam there is an opportunity for an infection.
Other things to know about membrane sweeping
- If you know this is something you ARE NOT interested in, talk to your provider about this before any vaginal exams that you have in late pregnancy. Informed consent for this procedure is always recommended.
- Stripping the membranes can cause cramps and lower back pain.
- Stripping the membranes can cause some light spotting of blood after the procedure.
- If you are interested in avoiding an artificial induction of labor, stripping the membranes could be an option to discuss with your care provider before other induction methods.
- Some people describe the procedure as painful. We recommend using slow breathing techniques during the procedure to help manage the discomfort.
- Can decrease the need for a medical induction of labor
All procedures, like membrane stripping should be discussed with your care providers. It is recommended to weigh the benefits, risks and alternatives to the procedure and consider your own intuition before making decisions.