To Sweep or Not To Sweep? Membrane Sweeping Basics

Facing an induction? You may want to consider a membrane sweep. Here are the basics…

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If you are ever so slowly creeping to 40 weeks and beyond, your midwife or OB may offer a ‘stretch and sweep’ or a ‘membrane sweep’. For most normal, low-risk pregnancies this is a safe and relatively gentle way to try to induce labor without the use of chemicals or AROM (artificial rupture of membranes).

What the heck are they sweeping?

The end result of this procedure is to encourage the release of prostaglandins, which are hormones that soften or efface the cervix and initiate labor. They do this by gently “sweeping”, or separating the membranes from the amniotic sac from the cervix.

How do they do a stretch and sweep?

If you aren’t yet dilated, they will massage the opening of your cervix with their finger to get that stretch and hopefully your body will release the prostaglandins to efface the cervix and bring about labor. If you are dilated, they will insert their finger inside the opening of the cervix and use circular massage motions to gently separate the membranes from the cervix. This procedure can be uncomfortable, so don’t be shy about asking them to give you a break if you need it.

The Benefits:

  • A stretch and sweep 40 weeks and beyond can greatly reduce the chances of delivering beyond term
  • A safe choice for most healthy, low-risk term pregnancies vs. induction methods with medication or AROM

The Risks:

  • It’s uncomfortable
  • There’s a chance of accidental AROM which can lead to infection and potentially further interventions if labor doesn’t begin

You may notice after a stretch and sweep some discomfort, mild to occasionally strong pain, cramping, and slight bleeding. Hopefully, labor will begin within 24 hours after a sweep. Be sure to contact your midwife or OB if your water breaks or seems to be leaking, or if you experience any bright red bleeding.

-Heather

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