Stripping Membranes: Everything to Know Before Trying

What are the Membranes?

The membranes are just another name for the amniotic sac or bag of waters. It is notably named this because it is filled with amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby and keeps him or her safe and comforted throughout the nine months of pregnancy.

When Will My Water Break?

In a natural birth that is free from medical interventions, the membranes rupture on their own. While the media and the film industry would have women believe this tends to occur spontaneously in one big gush just before a woman goes into labor, the reality is that it usually doesn’t happen until she’s well into contractions.

After all, it is those very contractions that cause the sac to burst. In addition, some women will leak amniotic fluid from small tears in the membrane sac. In some cases, the sac heals closed and the waters stay intact until labor is ready to start another day. In other cases, the fluid will continue to leak until strong enough contractions form that rupture the sac.

Women should not count on their water breaking before labor starts. Likewise, they shouldn’t worry about it happening at their favorite restaurant either, like it does in the movies. Should a slow leak start to occur, many women worry that they won’t be able to tell what the substance is that they are leaking. This may sound silly, but it isn’t when you’re in that situation.

Sometimes it’s just cervical mucus, and other times it might actually be urine. Don’t laugh; urine leakage is common in the end of pregnancy when there is a large human being lying on a woman’s bladder.

Women can often discern what the substance is that they are leaking by scent and texture. The viscosity of the fluid is different between them all. Cervical mucus will be slippery or slimy, while urine will be watery and flat, and amniotic fluid will feel silky and lubricant-like. The scent will not be akin to anything women have smelled before, either. Instead, it will smell sweet. Some describe it as a melon-like scent.

[Read more about Water Break]

What If My Due Date Comes to Pass?

Remember, due dates are only estimated guesses of when a baby should be born. It’s more or less a guide of the month in which a baby will be born rather than a specific day. In fact, only five percent of women actually deliver on their due date, per Parents Magazine.

Pros for Induction

Induction has become a typical way to birth in the United States. But this doesn’t mean it’s right. As the medical industry has learned of all the ways they can make birth a profitable business, they seek to do so more and more each year. Gone are the days when women birthed at home with their midwives. Sure, some still do, but it’s an alarmingly low number. The number of women birthing at home increased by 29 percent between 2004 and 2009, per the CDC. Instead, most women are now accustomed to the idea that birth should occur in a hospital. But hospitals were actually intended for the sick and dying — not the thriving and birthing.

Healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies are actually shown to fare much better without medical interventions that hospitals bring, and guess what? Women who birth in hospitals — regardless of how healthy they are or how uncomplicated their pregnancies have been — are still more likely to be rendered such interventions. Induction is just one of them, and stripping the membranes to induce labor is just one form of induction.

Other methods of induction include using cervical ripening agents, like Cytotec and Cervadil. Some women and their doctors will opt for Pitocin, though. This drug is synthetic oxytocin and stimulates labor by starting contractions in the uterus. In some cases, doctors may push for actually rupturing the membranes rather than just stripping the membranes at 37, 38, 39, or 40 weeks.

Cons for Induction

The biggest downside of induction is that it often leads to unnecessary medical interventions that would not likely have been needed if the induction had not occurred. The New York Times reports 24.7 percent of hospital births end up being C-sections, whereas just 5.3 percent of out-of-hospital births do. Next in line is the fact that inducing means labor is trying to be forced before the baby hasn’t given the green light that he or she is ready to be born. Yep, it’s actually up the baby, not Mom’s body.

Once the baby’s lungs reach maturity, they release lots of surfactant. This chemical is what signals the body to start producing oxytocin. From there, oxytocin causes contractions and the whole process starts in line with what both the body and baby are primed to do. The two work in conjunction to make it happen. Induction doesn’t take the baby’s readiness into account nearly as well — especially if the mother has gone past 39 weeks. Then doctors usually aren’t even inclined to test for lung maturity, when technically the baby could be as little as 37 weeks along since due dates are estimates that can range two weeks in either direction.

There are specific cons for stripping the membranes, too. First of all, you can’t have your membranes stripped without having a cervical check, which is completely unnecessary and just expose moms-to-be to bacteria that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. Thus, there is an added risk of infection that can be eliminated by not doing it.

In addition, stripping the membranes can cause premature rupture of the membranes. Sometimes people think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to just have the bag of waters break instead of waiting to see if a membrane sweep works or not, but breaking the waters before contractions have even started is risky business. If contractions don’t start afterwards, then Pitocin will likely be recommended. If that fails to produce contractions then women will usually be pushed to have a C-section within roughly 24 hours of when her water broke. In other works, PROM puts you on a clock you don’t want to be on. At the end of the day, stripping the membranes is a personal choice that only a woman can make for herself and her baby, but the medical literature and research isn’t a fan of it, even though some doctors who would like to hurry your labor along are.