Procedure of Membrane Sweep

Your midwife or doctor will carry out the procedure. During an internal examination, she will try to insert a finger into the opening of your cervix (neck of your womb) and then gently but firmly move her finger around. This action should separate the membranes of the amniotic sac surrounding your baby from your cervix. This separation releases hormones (prostaglandins) which may kick-start your labour.
The procedure may also be called a stretch and sweep, because if a sweep isn’t possible, your midwife may still try to stretch or massage your cervix. This stimulation may be enough to start the ripening of your cervix. If your cervix then starts to soften and open, your midwife may be able to do a proper sweep next time she sees you.

Your midwife or doctor will:

  • check the estimated date of delivery
  • ask you to empty your bladder and lie down
  • detect your baby’s position by feeling your abdomen
  • do an internal examination to find if your cervix is closed or open
  • massage around the neck of your womb if it is soft but closed – this ‘stretch’ can stimulate your body to release prostaglandins, which encourage the cervix to open
  • insert an index finger into the neck of the womb, if it is open, and use circular motions to loosen or ‘sweep’ the amniotic sac membranes from the top of the cervix – this triggers the release of hormones and may start labour.

If you find the procedure too uncomfortable, ask your midwife or doctor to stop.

Afterwards you might experience:

  • discomfort
  • mild or occasionally strong pain
  • slight bleeding
  • cramps or irregular contractions.

Take paracetamol and have a warm bath if you are in pain. If your membranes rupture, the pain is bad or you have fresh, red bleeding, contact the your midwife, doctor or maternity unit.

A membrane sweep increases the likelihood that labour will start within 48 hours. It has a higher chance of working if your cervix is already softening and preparing for labour. Rest assured that it doesn’t increase the risk of infection for you or your baby. If your waters have broken but labour hasn’t started, membrane sweeps are not recommended as, in these circumstances, they can increase your risk of infection.

A membrane sweep can be uncomfortable, as the cervix is often difficult to reach before your labour begins. Some women find the procedure painful. If you’ve been practising breathing techniques ready for labour, you may find they help you to relax while your midwife is carrying out the sweep. You may experience some slight spotting of blood, cramps or irregular contractions immediately afterwards.

If you’re a first-time mum, you should be offered a membrane sweep at your antenatal appointments at 40 weeks and again at 41 weeks. Some midwives will offer a membrane sweep every 72 hours (three days). If this isn’t your first baby, you should be offered a membrane sweep at your 41-week antenatal appointment.

If you’ve passed your due date, you should be offered a membrane sweep before other methods of induction. You may be offered two or three membrane sweeps before your doctor or midwife suggests other ways for you to be induced .


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