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Pregnancy/Maternity

Stripping membranes

How-to: help your baby arrive sooner by stripping membranes later in pregnancy? Towards the end of your pregnancy, your doctor might start talking about “stripping membranes”. What exactly does it mean? Is it effective? Or just painful?

Pregnancy can feel like an eternity, especially by the time you've hit your 39th week.By that point, you've been teased by a few Braxton Hicks contractions and your cervix has undergone little change, if any. Your nerves about giving birth start hitting new heights—and your patience, new lows. No matter what you do, your baby seems to be getting cozy right where he or she is. If that's the case, your doctor or midwife might propose stripping your membranes to induce labour.

The reason

If your baby is still content to remain in the womb, why rush things? For your placenta's sake, mostly. Theoretically speaking, pregnancy should be spread out over the 39 weeks after your last menstrual period.  Doctors, however, usually allow for a two-week margin of error, hence why pregnant women are more closely monitored until their 41st weeks. By that point, your placenta has already oxygenated and nourished your baby for nine months, so it's understandably a bit worn out. As more time passes, it'll begin to function less and less effectively, which may prompt the need to induce delivery before your 42nd week of pregnancy.

The procedure

When heading in for a weekly observation, as is normal in the late stages of pregnancy, your doctor will begin by examining your cervix for dilation and wear. If it's already dilated one centimetre, stripping membranes becomes an option.The process involves sliding a finger between the edge of the cervix and the amniotic sac, which triggers a release of prostaglandins, the naturally produced hormones that trigger contractions. (They're also the very same hormones found in semen and in gel used to artificially dilate the cervix.) This, in turn, helps speed up the advance towards delivery.

The possibility for mild pain does exist when your doctor slides his or her finger around your cervix, as well as potential discomfort in the few minutes following or even a little bleeding. However, the procedure itself is safe and certainly no cause for alarm.

The results

Although studies show that stripping membranes significantly shortens the timeline leading up birth (sogc.org), the result is not guaranteed. If your doctor tries to strip your membranes once and nothing happens the first time, you will likely have it done again during your next appointment one week later. Studies have shown that stripping membranes several times has increased the chances of successfully inducing labour.

When it does finally work, women tend to go into labour just a few hours after the procedure. It’s always best to have a suitcase packed and ready, just in case the baby’s thinking “now’s the time!” If delivery isn’t induced within a few hours, your doctor will likely schedule a hospital appointment to do so. Whatever the case, you’ll soon be cradling your baby in your arms.

By Anne Costisella

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