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  • Paula Schnebelt

The Truth About Membrane Stripping?


Membrane stripping is a common procedure in most hospitals, and a lot of the time, it is performed without the informed consent of the mother, or without her even being aware of it happening. Why do so many health care providers conduct this intervention? Is it really necessary? What are the benefits? First of all, let’s dive into exactly what membrane stripping/sweeping is. Membrane stripping or sweeping is a procedure that consists of a health care professional inserting their finger into the cervix, where they then separate the bag of waters from the side of the uterus near the cervix. The idea behind this intervention is that it could help induce labor, particularly in a mother who has passed her estimated due date. In many cases, this practice is done routinely and fails to be discussed with the mother before the procedure is performed. However, in other scenarios, the healthcare provider may have an informed consent discussion with you and allow you the opportunity to decide what you feel is right.

According to Evidence Based Birth, some pros and cons of membrane stripping include the following:

Pros

-If stripped at 41 weeks, can reduce chance of post-term pregnancy

-Decrease pregnancy length by 1-4 days

-Can help prevent needing medication for induction

Cons

-Cannot be done if the cervix is closed/not dilated

-Procedure can be somewhat or very painful

-May cause bleeding and/or irregular contractions

-1 in 10 chance of water breaking (which can lead to longer labors and increases the chance of medical induction if water breaks and labor doesn’t begin)

-Sometimes done without consent


Nurturing Hearts Birth Services outlines some more cons, suggesting that membrane stripping also increases the risk that bacteria will weaken the membranes and lead to a premature rupture of membranes. The procedure is also not guaranteed, which can be very disheartening after a mother has potentially undergone adverse side effects and discomfort, and to no avail. And with any intervention, there is always a risk of the cascade effect; one intervention is more likely to lead to multiple. Although evidence suggests that there are some pros to this procedure, is it really something that needs to be done? By stripping membranes, we are essentially saying that we don’t believe in our body’s natural ability to birth a baby and are interfering with a natural process. In some ways, the same thing could be said of many interventions; however, membrane stripping is not a natural method of induction, and also involves routine vaginal exams that have their downsides, too. Many home birth midwives would likely encourage you to leave your body alone and let it do its thing, and any health care professionals that are especially “hands-off” would probably not even feel comfortable doing the procedure. Perhaps membrane stripping could be beneficial in inducing labor on a rare occasion, but it is my thought that the baby will come out when he/she is truly ready. We need to stop trying to control birth, and let our body do what it has been doing successfully for thousands of years!


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