Stripping the Membranes to Help Labor

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When a woman reaches the end of the ninth month of her pregnancy, she can be physically uncomfortable. Many pregnant women thus find themselves wanting something that can help labor begin. Stripping the membranes is one technique that can be used for that purpose.

What It Is

  • Stripping the membranes, also known as amniotic membrane sweeping, is a procedure done as a natural means of labor induction. In the procedure, one or two fingers are inserted into the vagina past the cervix. The fingers then are moved in a sweeping motion. This loosens the mucus plug that serves as a barrier between the uterus and the outside of the body. It also loosens the amniotic sac from the uterus. The procedure takes a few minutes and usually feels like a regular vaginal exam.

Effectiveness

  • Stripping the membranes of a pregnant women is believed to work as a form of labor induction because the loosening of the mucus plug and amniotic sac stimulates contractions in the uterus. Although most women experience labor within three days of having the membranes stripped, not all women who have the procedure done go into labor within three days. Furthermore, it is debatable whether the procedure really does much good, considering that many women who go into labor after the procedure might have gone into labor for a reason other than the stripping.

Who Does It

  • Stripping of the membranes usually is done by a physician. It also is done by midwives, although this is less common. Although it is rare, a woman also can strip her own membranes at home. Regardless of who does the procedure, proper precautions need to be taken in order to prevent infection. Hands need to be washed at a bare minimum before the fingers are inserted into the vagina, and if possible, latex or latex alternative gloves should be used.

Side Effects

  • Several side effects might arise from the stripping of the membranes, and pregnant women should be aware of them. They include cramping and pain during the procedure. The most serious complication is premature rupture of the amniotic sac.

Considerations

  • Stripping of the membranes is not recommended unless the pregnancy is at or over 40 weeks because the due date of a pregnant woman can be inaccurate. If the date is inaccurate and labor is induced, a woman can give birth before the baby is truly fully ready to start life outside of the womb. Most women will go into labor naturally by 42 weeks, so induction via stripping of the membranes might not be medically necessary. A woman considering the procedure should consult with her care provider before proceeding.

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