Membrane Sweeping: What Happens When You’re Past Your Due Date

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membrane stripping
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If you’re reaching the tail-end of your pregnancy, or are, by some chance, past your due date entirely, and there are some possible concerns about the health of your baby, it might be suggested by your doctor or medical professional that you be induced by membrane stripping.

Inducing labour involves trying to start the process of labour sooner rather than waiting for it to take its time and begin naturally. It is hardly uncommon, but obviously might be scary for an expecting mother, especially when she already has concerns about labour itself.

Now doctors might suggest inducing for a number of reasons – health issues like preeclampsia, tests indicating that your baby has some problem, and so on. One of the most common methods that a doctor uses to induce labour involves membrane stripping.

If you’re in a situation where you need to be induced, this might actually be suggested or performed on you. But it might be that you’re unfamiliar with what this is; it might sound quite scary and technical. But it’s quite common for pregnancies which don’t have complications. So what does it consist of?

What is membrane stripping?

This is also known as membrane sweeping. Basically, the doctor or your midwife will use a gloved finger to try to separate the amniotic sac which is holding the baby from the walls of the uterus. They will do this by gently sweeping the inside of the cervical area.

The motion also stimulates prostaglandins, which are compounds that control some biological processes, including labour. Sometimes the doctor might also massage the area to help the cervix dilate. The process can, therefore, make your contractions come on.

Generally, membrane stripping might cause a gradual inducement; you won’t be going into labour immediately or anything like that. It’s usually done at around 38 to 40 weeks in uncomplicated pregnancies so that no other medication needs to be used for inducement and to make sure you don’t have to wait more than 41 weeks to go into labour. 

membrane stripping

The membrane stripping procedure

Membrane stripping is usually only required once. You go into the doctor’s office and lie on the examination table. It’s a few minutes at the most, but it might be a bit uncomfortable for you, so just breathe deeply and try to get through it. However, it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable and there shouldn’t be too much bleeding (a little bleeding is expected).

Once you go home, you might find the pain persists a bit, as well as a little bleeding and contractions which are irregular. However, there aren’t really many risks to the procedure aside from this. It doesn’t have any long-term negative effects on the mother or the child. Any excessive abnormality during or after the procedure, though, should be reported to your doctor asap.

Does it work?

You don’t really want to subject yourself to more discomfort if the process isn’t likely to work, so it’s fair to wonder if this actually works or not. After all, it seems like quite a simple process. But actually, membrane stripping has a decent success rate.

It makes spontaneous delivery (delivery which happens on its own, and without having to use other tools to remove the baby) much more likely. If you’ve had the procedure, you can probably expect to go into labour sometime in the next few days. So yes, it has a high possibility of making you go into labour faster, especially if you’re past your due date.

However, it’s obviously not the same as being given certain medications to induce labour. Membrane stripping is a procedure you might go through as long as there’s no emergency or no immediate need for you to go into labour right then and there. 

membrane stripping

The bottom line

Basically, membrane stripping can worry you a bit when you first hear about it, but it’s actually a fairly straightforward process that doesn’t take too long. Obviously, you only need to do this if your doctor advises it. You probably won’t be advised this procedure if you’re likely to have a C-section if you’ve got certain active infections, if you’ve birthed several children before, or if there are certain problems with the foetus.

Generally, you should go with what your doctor says at such a late stage in your pregnancy, but always make sure the procedure is being performed by someone you trust.