Membrane stripping, also known as membrane sweeping, is a procedure that can help induce labor in pregnant people who are close to or past their due date.

During a membrane stripping procedure, a doctor inserts one or two gloved fingers into a person’s cervix and sweeps between the thin membranes of the amniotic sac. This is a thin-walled sac around the fetus.

This stimulates hormone and prostaglandin production, compounds that help induce labor.

This article covers the safety, efficacy and potential risks of membrane stripping.

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Membrane stripping is usually safe in uncomplicated pregnancies.

However, there are minor risks associated with this technique. These include:

  • mild discomfort during the procedure
  • minor vaginal bleeding
  • irregular contractions

Membrane stripping carries minimal risk, but it may not be suitable for everyone.

Who should not have membrane stripping?

A doctor is likely to decide against membrane stripping if it is unsafe for a person to deliver their baby vaginally. The following factors might also make the procedure unsuitable:

  • prior cesarean delivery
  • multiple births
  • history of preterm delivery
  • current bacterial cervical infection
  • placenta previa, where the placenta covers the opening of the cervix
  • active herpes infection
  • vasa previa, a condition in which connective membranes cover the opening of the cervix
  • severe fetal abnormalities
  • Mullerian duct abnormalities
  • abnormal fetal position
  • structural pelvic abnormalities
  • prior uterine rupture

In most cases, membrane stripping increases the likelihood of spontaneous labor, especially in the 7 days following the procedure. However, a 2020 research review found that membrane stripping does not typically lead to unassisted vaginal birth.

Researchers found 40 studies involving 6,548 women, comparing the rate of labor from membrane stripping versus no intervention. They concluded that membrane stripping can increase the likelihood of spontaneous labor by more than 20%.

Doctors usually only need to carry out the procedure once to induce labor successfully. However, some women may require multiple stripping procedures.

For example, a 2014 study of 800 women found that membrane stripping, in conjunction with other methods of induction:

  • reduces the time between induction and labor
  • increases the vaginal delivery rate
  • lowers the need for oxytocin, a drug that induces labor

How painful is a membrane strip?

The procedure can be uncomfortable, and most women feel a bit of pain and tenderness afterward. Some women also experience minor bleeding.

It is essential to inform the doctor immediately if severe pain or bleeding occurs during or after the appointment.

What should someone expect before and after a membrane strip?

Women do not generally need to prepare for membrane stripping, which the doctor will carry out as part of a regular examination.

The procedure usually takes place in a doctor’s office. The doctor may need to stimulate the cervix to dilate it, as membrane stripping will not be possible otherwise.

Membrane stripping s a nonsurgical intervention that can induce labor.

Doctors typically perform membrane stripping during the final few weeks of pregnancy, usually between 38 and 41 weeks of gestation.

Membrane stripping is a relatively safe procedure in uncomplicated pregnancies, and study results have shown that it can increase the likelihood of spontaneous labor.