What does “stripping the membranes” mean, and how often is it used to start labor? Is the mother usually asked before a procedure like this is started?
Stripping the membranes, also known as sweeping the membranes, refers to a simple procedure sometimes done by practitioners during a vaginal exam to initiate labor. The clinician slides a gloved finger through the cervical opening, using a sweeping motion to separate the amniotic membranes from the cervix. It’s thought that stripping the membranes triggers the release of prostaglandins, which may help to initiate labor.
It’s hard to estimate how often this process is done, but practitioners who strip the membranes of their patients during the last few weeks report earlier deliveries on average in this group compared to patients who don’t have this done. If you are anxious to hasten your delivery date, you can ask your practitioner to perform this weekly beginning at 38 weeks. Stripping the membranes may reduce the duration of your pregnancy and lessen the chances that your pregnancy will continue beyond 41 weeks.
Stripping the membranes feels like an intense vaginal exam but can only be done if your cervix is open wide enough to admit a finger. Side effects may include cramping, temporary cervical bleeding and irregular contractions. This procedure should not increase the risk of infection and is not the same as rupturing the bag of waters, in which the amniotic sac is broken to augment labor.
I would guess that most doctors ask patients before using this technique, but talk to your own doctor to learn about his/her usual practice.
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