It's natural to feel impatient in the final weeks of pregnancy, feeling frustrated to wake up each day to find you’re still pregnant. It’s important to remember that only 5% of women will give birth on their due date and not to fixate to greatly on this date. As the weeks go on, you may find health professionals bringing up the topic of induction of labour. While an induced labour is fairly common, with 1 in 5 labours in the UK being induced, many women want more information about how they can avoid having an induction of labour for being overdue.

We can reduce the likelihood of needing induction by having a membrane stretch and sweep.

What Is A Membrane Stretch & Sweep?

A membrane sweep, also known as a cervical sweep or membrane strip, is not a method of induction, but can help to encourage natural, spontaneous labour. It is performed at home or in the antenatal clinic and takes about 10 minutes.

The process of a membrane sweep is simple:

1. Your midwife will check baby position and heartbeat
2. The examiner inserts a finger through the vagina into the cervix to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac surrounding your baby from the wall of the womb with a circular, sweeping movement and stretches the cervix at the same time.

The process doesn’t hurt, but it can often be quite uncomfortable. But bear with it, if it works it’s worth it!

After the sweep, you can go home and wait for labour to start!

The Benefits Of A Membrane Sweep

pregnant women

A membrane sweep can be highly beneficial for those who are nearing or past their due date but do not want an induced labour. Some of the main benefits of a membrane sweep include:

The procedure is completely drug-free and similar to an internal examination, meaning the process itself doesn’t take long.

The sweep encourages release of prostaglandin, which is involved in starting labour. A Cochrane review in 2004 showed a sweep at 41 weeks decreases your chances of going to 42 weeks from 41% to 23%, almost half!

If the membrane sweep is successful labour begins within 48 hours. Having 2 or 3 membrane sweeps 48 hours apart is most successful in encouraging labour to start.

The same study showed a 14% reduction in the need for formal induction of labour in women who had sweeps.

Side Effects & Risks Of A Membrane Sweep

There are very few side effects of a membrane sweep.

You may experience a ‘show’ of mucous discharge which may contain some blood and some slight discomfort afterwards. If you are at all concerned about the bleeding, then be sure to call your hospital.

The Cochrane review showed no significant risks such as infection or membrane rupture, and researchers on a study published by the Journal of Clinical Gynaecology and Obstetrics (JCGO)did not find any increased risk or negative side effects in women undertaking membrane sweeps.

However, a membrane sweep can only be carried out if the cervix is dilated (at least one centimetre) or softened to admit a finger tip. If your cervix is difficult to reach or completely closed, they may be unable to perform the sweep.

Current NICE Recommendations For A Membrane Sweep

There are a number of NICE recommendations currently in place for a membrane sweep. These include:

  • All women pregnant with first baby should be offered a sweep at 40 & 41 weeks.
  • If pregnant with subsequent babies, offer sweep at 41 week visit.
  • If you have had a previous caesarean and planning a VBAC, sweeps can be offered from 37 weeks

It is important to note that membrane sweeping is completely voluntary and may not be the right choice for every expectant mother.

For more information about membrane sweeping or if you have any other questions about inducing labour, take a look at our online antenatal course, sign up to one of our webinars or get in touch with the expert team at The Birth Collective, today!