What’s the Deal with Membrane Stripping?

“Would you like me to strip your membranes? It hurts, but it might help put you into labor”  is a question I ask almost daily.

The patient will usually pause and mentally weigh the misery of her current pregnant state versus the suggested discomfort of said, ‘membrane stripping.’

“How exactly do you do it?” she will inquire skeptically.

I explain. When I check a woman’s cervix, I insert my finger through the cervix to touch the bag of water and/or babies head. By doing this I can determine the dilation (how open the cervix is) and effacement (how thin it is). To strip (or as some more nicely say it, ‘sweep’ ) the membranes, the finger is inserted further in the uterus and rotated in the space between the bag of water and the uterus. This causes the release of proteins called prostagladins which help bring on contractions. Studies show that membrane stripping has a 20% chance of bringing on labor within 24 hours.  It may be as high as 50% if combined with intercourse (semen also contains prostagladins).

Membrane sweeping is not an induction method, it’s a way to get the body to kick into labor on its own. It does not increase the risk of infection, but like I said, it does hurt. How much? Every woman’s pain tolerance is different, but I’ve heard nice Baptist girls curse after a good sweeping.

After having your membranes stripped, you will likely have some spotting and mucous discharge for about 24 hours. This of course, totally puts you in the mood for the aforementioned ancillary to the sweeping: intercourse.

If your overall pregnancy misery outweighs the temporary discomfort of membrane stripping, you may just want to go for it. No, we can’t be for sure it will work, but it may help.  I would advise to not shorten the term to just ‘stripping’ as the following quote was overheard in my waiting room recently, and was a little disturbing:

“Doctor Rupe is great. She does the best stripping, it puts me into labor every time!”

About Dr. Heather Rupe

Dr. Rupe is a mom, wife and OB/GYN. She is the co-author of The Pregnancy Companion book and blogs at www.ThePregnancyCompanion.com. Her heart is to help guide women through as peaceful a pregnancy as possible. In her spare time she loves to run and laugh whenever she can.


  1. You made me laugh out loud with this one. Way to make an uncomfortable subject laughable!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Now that comment you overheard is a little bit creepy for me. I bet she has been your client at least three times.

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