We know that many of our readers prefer to go the natural route for as many of their birthing processes as possible. Sometimes inducing labour is necessary and is often conducted with the aid of drugs. But there is a simple, drug-free alternative when inducing labour is necessary: “stripping membranes” (also known as “sweeping membranes”).  Sounds kind of scary, eh? So what does it entail? Well according to GynOB.com, who call themselves “the virtual OB-GYN Office,” stripping membranes involves “stripping the amniotic membrane away from the cervix to bring on labour.” In English please? The amniotic membrane is the sac of amniotic fluid in which your baby has been warm and cozy for nine months. If your doctor or midwife inserts her fingers into your cervix, much like she would during a pelvic exam, she can separate the amniotic sac from its attachment to your cervix and lower uterine wall. The process does not break the amniotic sac (i.e. it doesn’t cause your water to break). This is perfectly safe for baby and the process causes prostaglandins to be released which are very potent labour stimulators. One “stripping” isn’t enough, however, to fully induce labour. You’d better put on your best strip-club music because this membrane stripping process has to be performed a number of times for it to fully get that labour going.

So why is it necessary? Baby grows by half a pound every week during your last month of pregnancy, so sometimes it is necessary to induce labour when baby is the right size to make her entrance. Other times it is necessary to jump-start baby’s entrance so that both of you remain safe and healthy. Inducing labour by stripping membranes, an old practice, has been reintroduced in response to the rise in C-Section rates. In other words, doctors who became concerned about how many C-Sections were being performed started using this practice which can sometimes help prevent a C-Section from being necessary. The practice is especially useful for diabetic moms-to-be and moms with pregnancy induced hypertension. However, the method can only be used on women who have an open cervix and unfortunately, women whose cervices are closed are often the ones who need to be induced the most!

What are the risks? The risks involved are just the same as the risks involved with your usual pelvic exam. It’s probably going to be a bit uncomfortable—as it always is—and there is a chance of infection, but this is extremely slim. The procedure should not result in any bleeding. Some women have reported some bleeding, minor cramping or odd contractions after the procedure, but studies have not found that this is a reliable side effect of the procedure (i.e. scientists don’t think this is a result of the procedure).

Ultimately it is up to you and the health care worker you’ve placed in charge of your birthing process whether or not inducing labour is necessary. If you’re curious about this “stripping membranes” method of inducing labour, it’s good to discuss it with your doctor or midwife ahead of time in case inducing labour is necessary when the time comes. Just make sure you take off your 6-inch heals before baby arrives!

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-Danica Longair