Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
A membrane sweep is a procedure performed in order to stimulate labor and avoid going over the set period for giving birth. The procedure is performed by the midwife or the doctor, representing one of the first chosen methods of induction.
For this procedure, the doctor or the midwife will insert a finger into the cervix opening and move the finger around, in a gentle manner. The cervix opening is actually the neck of the womb and this procedure is meant to separate the amniotic sac membranes. These are the ones separating the baby from the cervix. The main advantage of this procedure is that it stimulates the production of prostaglandin hormones, which may stimulate the labor process.
In some women, when the sweep is not possible, the midwife will try to stretch the cervix, performing a gentle massage. It is believed that, without enough stimulation, the cervix will start to ripen. This will allow, at the next session, for the midwife to perform the actual membrane sweep procedure (as the cervix will start to soften, opening in the preparation of the labor).
You can have this procedure performed, without worrying, as the membrane sweep does not carry a risk for infection. On the other hand, the membrane sweep is not recommended in women whose water has broken but the labor process hasn’t begun, as the risk of infection is quite high in those cases. In general, this procedure is relatively safe but complications related to prematurity can occur, if the due date has been incorrectly assessed.
It is important to note that the membrane sweep as a procedure can be quite uncomfortable and even painful, as it is not easy to reach the cervix at this point. In order to sustain the pain caused by this procedure, you might find it useful to use some of the breathing techniques you have been taught for the actual labor. After the procedure, it is possible that you experience cramps and spotting; plus, there may be some irregular contractions but you should not worry about them. These symptoms are quite normal, so try to rest for the next days after the procedure. However, no harm is done to the baby. In the next couple of days, if you will feel abdominal discomfort, this might mean that the labor has started.
First-time mothers are offered the membrane sweep when the pregnancy is at 40 weeks and, if the labor does not occur, once more at 41 weeks. The membrane sweep procedure might also be offered even more often, for example, at every three days (this varies from one hospital to the other and also from one midwife to another). For those who have given birth before, the membrane sweep is offered when the pregnancy is at 41 weeks.
It is very important to consider the membrane sweep if you have passed the due date, before trying out other methods of inducing the labor process. The doctor might suggest several membrane sweeps before choosing other methods to induce your labor. Keep in mind that some of these methods are quite invasive, this being the main reason why the membrane sweep is recommended as the first choice for stimulating labor. If the membrane sweep does not provide the desired results, then the doctor might choose other methods to induce the labor, such as the artificial rupture of the membranes (ARM) and/or the Syntocinon drip.
The advantages of the membrane sweep include: natural method of inducing labor, helps you avoid more invasive methods of inducing labor and it can be performed at home. On the other hand, this procedure comes with a series of disadvantages, such as: it can be quite uncomfortable or painful; it comes with the risk of the water membranes breaking, which also means an increased risk of infection. If the water breaks, you will have to give birth within 96 hours, otherwise the baby will be in distress and neurological damage can occur.
The membrane sweep is recommended not only if you are overdue but also if you are suffering from different medical conditions, such as: pregnancy diabetes, preeclampsia, a dysfunction of the pubic symphysis and obstetric cholestasis. The doctor might recommend the membrane sweep if the baby has stopped growing or if the baby is not growing as expected. The membrane sweep is also indicated in multiple pregnancies, especially if the pregnancy is making you feel tired.
Effectiveness of membrane sweep
The membrane sweep can be an effective procedure is stimulating labor. It is believed that the membrane sweep will increase the chances of labor starting in approximately two days. If the cervix has already softened and opened partially, the level of effectiveness for this procedure increases. Also, keep in mind that there may be women in which this procedure is not effective.
Statistics have shown that the membrane sweep has a success rate of approximately 24%, when it comes to starting the labor in two days. On the other hand, the majority of the women who will undergo this procedure, are going to give birth in approximately one week. The procedure can be repeated, which increases its success rate.
In order for the procedure to be performed, you will have to give your consent. The doctor and the midwife are going to take you through the steps of the procedure, informing you of the benefits and the success rate. Before the procedure, you will have to go to the toilet and empty your bladder. The doctor is going to listen to the heartbeat of your baby and, if something does not seem right, the procedure is not going to be performed.
In conclusion, this is a very important procedure and one that can induce labor in an effective manner. The main advantage of this procedure is that it is not as invasive as other methods of induction, being often the first choice for midwives and doctors. It is performed in mothers who have gone over the due date, in order to stimulate labor and allow for a healthy, natural birth process.