What You Should Know About Informed Consent & Membrane Sweeping

What You Should Know About Informed Consent & Membrane Sweeping

by / Wednesday, 26 January 2022 / Published in Birth Trauma
Crying baby.

It’s extremely common for babies to not be born on their due date. It’s estimated that only about 5% of babies are born on their due dates. If you’re close to your due date or a little bit past it, your doctor may start talking about different ways to get labor started. If induction is advisable, doctors have several different options available to consider and the first one they may recommend is membrane sweeping. However, some women report that their doctors performed membrane sweeping on them without discussing it with them first. 

What is Membrane Sweeping? When Should Membrane Sweeping Occur?

Membrane sweeping occurs when a doctor places a finger through the cervix and uses their finger to separate the amniotic sac from the uterus. This is typically done around the 39-week or 40-week mark of pregnancy to help start the labor process rather than using medical options for inducing labor. It may be suggested if an expectant mother has passed their due date but has not gone into labor. However, in some cases, doctors may recommend membrane sweeping a few weeks earlier than 39 or 40 weeks if there is a medical reason to want labor to begin sooner rather than later and the mother is dilated enough for them to be able to do the procedure. 

Membrane sweeping is generally viewed as a safe and effective procedure, but there are some cases when it may not be recommended, such as if there is reason to believe a C-section may be needed.

Membrane Sweeping & Informed Consent

Even though membrane sweeping is safe and a commonly performed procedure, that doesn’t mean it’s okay for doctors to perform it without obtaining informed consent. There have been many stories about women who went to see their doctors for routine exams, only to have their doctor sweep their membranes without getting permission first or explaining what they were doing. The patient suddenly felt extreme discomfort during the exam, initially writing it off as being a normal part of the exam, but later discovered what the doctor was really doing. 

One such incident, discussed on Parents.com, involved a story from a woman whose doctor performed membrane sweeping on her without consent even though she very adamantly wanted to avoid interventions like induction or C-sections unless necessary. The doctor had previously made statements that the expectant mother’s due date – Christmas Eve – wasn’t convenient for her and wanted the baby to come sooner. 

Another story highlighted by Today’s Parent comes from a woman who experienced membrane sweeping twice, both without her consent. In the second incident, the procedure was performed even though the baby was in a breech position. The doctor wasn’t the expectant mother’s usual doctor and she believes the second doctor didn’t realize the baby was breech. 

Even if membrane sweeps are advisable, they are optional. If you prefer labor to be induced through other means, you have the right to say no to membrane sweeping. Informed consent is still important, which means doctors need to educate patients about things like what a procedure involves and the risks and benefits involved, so that the patient can make an informed decision about whether or not they want the procedure to take place. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that pregnancy is not an exception to a patient’s right to refuse treatment. 

Contact a Michigan Birth Trauma Lawyer

If your doctor performed a membrane sweep without your consent and it caused problems with your delivery, don’t hesitate to contact a birth trauma lawyer. Failing to obtain informed consent can be considered medical malpractice and it’s important to make sure you have someone on your side who understands how the law applies to your situation. At Goodwin & Scieszka, you’ll be able to speak to a lawyer experienced in handling birth trauma and medical malpractice cases in the state of Michigan. They’ll be able to answer your question and help you understand your legal options. Contact us today to get started.

Image: Anastasiia Stiahailo / iStock