Stripping or sweeping the membranes is the separation of 2-3 cm of the membranes (bag around the baby) from the underlying cervix or lower part of the uterus. It is done during a vaginal examination with the finger of the examiner. There is some evidence from research studies, and many practitioners believe, that stripping the membranes may help to start labor in women who are past their due date (from 41-42 weeks of gestation).  As the membranes are separated from the cervix, prostaglandins or local hormones are released.  These hormones are known to be involved in the initiation of labor.  Unfortunately, if the cervix is closed, it is not possible to strip the membranes, and it is the woman with a closed cervix who has the greatest chance of not going into labor on her own.  In this case, the mother can try another method of releasing prostaglandins into the vagina – having sex!

The procedure of stripping the membranes is no more uncomfortable than the usual vaginal exam (never very comfortable!) and has not been shown to cause complications such as infection or significant bleeding.  It may cause some light cramping (like menstrual cramps) during the procedure and for some hours afterward.  Also, it may release some of the “bloody show” or “mucous plug,” which looks like mucus streaked with pink, red, or brown blood.  This is not concerning in pregnancy at term, and may occur spontaneously.