Whether you’re approaching the 39-week mark, are a naturally impatient person or, well, just done being pregnant, you’re likely replaying fantasies in your mind about finally feeling those back-shattering contractions. Have you tried sit-bouncing on one of those big exercise balls yet? Of course you have. And while pacing up and down the hallways of your home, you might have also entertained the idea of asking your doctor about ways to induce your labor. Should you be experimenting with ideas to coax out your baby at home? No, those are conversations to have with your healthcare providers.
But if you do have those chats with your doctors, one idea that might be discussed is stripping the membranes, or having a membrane sweep. The procedure involves a professional placing a covered finger into an already dilating cervix and “sweeping” over the connective membranes along the uterine wall, in between the amniotic sac, to introduce more prostaglandins and bring on contractions, as per The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It can help move things along, though you shouldn’t expect a baby to arrive right after it’s done.
How Might A Membrane Sweep Help Induce My Labor?
If you’re planning for a vaginal delivery, it’s a procedure to discuss with your doctors and caregivers when entering the later stages of your pregnancy (say, around 37 weeks). “Membrane sweeping has been shown to increase the chances someone will go into labor spontaneously over the next one to two weeks, and reduce the need for an induction of labor,” says Aaron B. Caughey, M.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oregon Health and Science University.
The procedure is generally safe, straightforward, doesn’t take very long, and promotes prostaglandins to be released, which can help the cervix ripen, says Jennifer Bantz, M.D., Obstetrics & Gynecology with Mayo Clinic Health System. And while you might start to feel contractions fairly soon after, says Bantz, it doesn’t necessarily mean your labor will begin right away. “The definition of labor is regular contractions with cervical dilation,” Bantz says. Stripping the membranes, Bantz says, just might tip you over the edge into labor.
This is a treatment you can receive in a doctor’s office. Directly following, if your doctor gives you the green light, you can go home. You may experience spotting in the days after, Bantz says, but if the bleeding is heavier, “where you need to wear a pad, that is too much,” and you should let your healthcare providers know of your experience.
Can I Have Sex After Stripping The Membranes?
You can participate in your normal activities, says Caughey. “There is no evidence that sex is at all dangerous after a membrane sweep or otherwise for individuals planning a vaginal delivery.” Intercourse can release prostaglandins, as well, Bantz points out. But if you begin contracting, you might feel uncomfortable and not up for certain activities; “Just listen to your body,” Bantz says. And never hesitate to check in with your doctors.
What If My Water Breaks After A Membrane Sweep?
Generally speaking, Bantz says, if your water breaks, then being monitored in the hospital, by your healthcare providers is a good idea, as at this stage there’s a higher risk for infection. So you might want to skip thoughts of sex.
If you’re considering stripping the membranes to move things along, talk to your healthcare providers. This could be a treatment that depends more on your comfort level than a medical need. You may ask yourself, ‘How sensitive to pain or discomfort am I?’ It’s a conversation to have with professionals so you can proceed with confidence and safety.
Jennifer Bantz, M.D., Obstetrics & Gynecology with Mayo Clinic Health System.
Aaron B. Caughey, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D, Professor and Chair Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Associate Dean for Women's Health Research & Polic, Oregon Health & Science University