At the end of your pregnancy your care provider might mention a procedure called “stripping membranes”. It can also be called “stretching membranes” or “a stretch and sweep”. The purpose of this procedure is to help your body go into labor. For many people, this is what they are hoping to happen and if this procedure works then they are on board. It is important to know that this procedure is always optional. You have the choice of deciding whether it is something that is right for you and your goals for labor.
Before agreeing to this procedure you might want to learn a bit more about the benefits, risks and alternatives.
Benefits of Stripping Membranes
If having your membranes stripped (also called a membrane sweep) leads to labor, then this can be a big benefit to this procedure. Stripping or sweeping your membranes is a procedure that can be done by your care provider during a regular prenatal appointment. Many people consider this a benefit to other induction methods that require hospitalization.
Risks of Stripping Membranes
One of the primary risks of stripping membranes is that your provider could accidentally rupture your membranes (break your water) during the procedure. If your membranes rupture, you will be monitored at the hospital and your care provider might need to take additional measures to induce your labor. There is a risk of infection of your membranes are ruptured for an extended period of time.
A second risk of stripping membranes is that the procedure could cause your body to have contractions that are uncomfortable, but don’t actually lead to labor. When this happens, you likely can’t sleep and are exhausted without being any closer to labor.
Stripping Membranes Can Be Painful
Many care providers don’t discuss what the procedure can feel like to their patients. I have heard from countless people that they experience pain during a sweep of their membranes. (some people have even report excruciating pain)
The procedure requires the care provider to insert a gloved finger into the vagina and through the cervix. For this reason the cervix must be at least a bit dilated in order for the procedure to be done. Inside the cervix, the care provider sweeps their finger around to disrupt the membranes that are found between the amniotic sac and the lower segment of the uterus. This process can be particularly painful if your cervix is in the posterior position and therefore difficult to reach.
It is common to have some spotting after a membrane sweep and you might even notice a little brown discharge after the procedure which is a bit of blood as well.
Recommendations for Stripping Membranes
This is a procedure that should be discussed prior to a cervical exam. Sometimes care providers perform the procedure without consent from their patients. To avoid this from happening to you, I recommend talking it over with your care provider and asking questions to determine if it is something that you want to choose for yourself. It can be a procedure that you want to consider at a certain point in your pregnancy or as an alternative to other forms of induction. Often times a care provider will offer a membrane sweep before suggesting an induction with pitocin.
Knowing how labor works and what to expect can help you decrease fear and help you feel prepared and excited about labor and birth.
You can continue learning more about how the body works during birth inside the Birth Tool Box course. This course provides uber-practical guidance you can recall easily and apply naturally.