Q. What does “stripping of the membranes” mean? How is it done and how is it different than breaking my water?
A. As you probably know, the bag of waters is inside the uterus, and the bag is composed of membranes. The membranes tend to cling to the wall of the uterus until after the baby is born and the placenta is expelled. As the cervix begins to soften and open (dilate) at the end of pregnancy, the part of the membranes that was over the cervical opening can be felt through the opening when a vaginal exam is done. “Stripping the membranes” is done by inserting a finger between the membranes and the wall of the uterus to loosen the membranes from the wall. Sometimes, this stimulation of the uterine wall can help to start labor. Sometimes, the loosening of the membranes allows more water to collect in front of the baby which puts more pressure on the cervix and perhaps labor is stimulated that way. The procedure can be a little uncomfortable for some women. If the woman is truly near delivery, she often gets a contraction as a result of the procedure.
Usually the practitioner tries not to break the bag of waters when the membranes are loosened. Breaking the bag of waters commits the woman to delivery, perhaps before the baby is ready to come. Although stripping membranes is not considered a form of induction, the hope is that it is a form of stimulation of labor. Done too early, it has no effect, but if the body is nearly ready anyway, it can give a little jump-start to the labor process.