Are you thinking about a membrane sweep? We get it. The end of your pregnancy gets difficult, and you might want the baby out!! Whether you are tired of being pregnant or you are ready to meet your baby, you might be considering ways to induce labor without actually being induced.
So many of our students and mamas in our pregnancy/postpartum membership come to my team doula and me with questions about getting a membrane sweep. So many, in fact, we decided to do an article, podcast, live, and video!
I will explain everything you need to know about getting a membrane sweep and how it works. So keep reading!
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What is a Membrane Sweep?
Sweeping your membrane, cervical sweep, doing a stretch and sweep, or stripping your membranes (all fancy terms that mean the same) is a way to get your body doing its thing and starting labor.
When the first stages of pre-labor begin, your body releases prostaglandins. Prostaglandins work by softening the cervix and getting it ripe. For first-time moms, this is extremely important. Imagine a peach that is hard and not edible. Your peach (cervix) has to soften to open (dilate). Your cervix can dilate and efface (soften) simultaneously for a mama like me (I've had 6 kids).
The baby's head is hopefully low at this time because the baby's head pressing on the cervix, along with the beautiful prostaglandin, tells your brain to release the super labor friend, Oxytocin. Oxytocin tells the uterus to contract (contractions), and so on. Boom, labor! Our body and the labor hormone work together.
How dilated do you have to be for a membrane sweep?
To perform a membrane sweep, your provider has to be able to get a finger or two into the opening. If your cervix is closed, then it is a no-go! This is why we recommend that our students and readers start doing some pre-labor prep around 32 weeks. I am a huge fan of membrane sweeps and see them as one of the better labor induction methods that aren't as invasive ish.
When would I need a membrane sweep?
There are various reasons you may need or want a membrane sweep.
- Want to have the baby (at term, not before!) but don't really have a pressing medical reason for labor to start
- Are a VBAC wanna-be mama, and your doctor will not induce
- You are being induced and want to increase the success of a medical induction
- You are high-risk or higher-risk and have to be induced
- Desire to experience spontaneous labor and your doctor pressures you into a formal induction.
- Past your due date
- Overdue (after 42 weeks gestational age)
- Ok, with a more natural labor induction intervention
How do doctors perform a membrane sweep?
Membrane sweeps are often performed by your provider in the doctor's office. Both a midwife and an OB does them for their patients. A nurse or other clinician does not or probably should not. Some providers are more likely to do one than others. It really is personal preference and whether they have had a good or bad experience doing this procedure.
Here's how it goes:
- You go in for a regular OB appointment or specifically for a stretch and sweep.
- Your provider should explain everything and get your informed consent.
- You get into the same position as a cervical exam or pap smear.
- I suggest laying back and putting the soles of your feet together like they are clapping and then relaxing your knees on the exam table.
- Ask your provider to roll a towel under your lower back to tilt your cervix forward if it is still hard to reach.
- If you are worried or scared about cervical exams, try deep cleansing and wiggling your toes lightly.
- Your provider will gently (hopefully) spread apart your labia, insert two fingers (lubricated and gloved) into your vagina, and find your cervix.
- Once she finds your cervix, she will check dilation and effacement; if it is open, she will do a sweeping motion with her index finger (in a circular motion around the inside of your cervix), separating the membrane of the amniotic sac from the cervix.
- If able, your doctor or midwife might stretch the cervical opening, increasing the membrane sweep's success.
What does a membrane sweep feel like? Is it painful?
Is a stretch and sweep painful? Some women will describe a membrane sweep as very painful. Usually, these same women have a hard time with cervical exams or vaginal exams as well. But usually, most women will experience mild discomfort and a little pelvic pain during the sweep. You might experience cramping after a membrane sweep or even during. You should not experience severe pain, if you do during it, ask your provider to stop.
Because most women can tolerate the stripping of membranes, this is a favorite low-key labor-induction method that is done often.
What happens after a membrane sweep?
After your provider performs your membrane stripping, they will finish the rest of the visit and hopefully answer all your questions. You will then get dressed and head home. I highly suggest wearing a pad after you any vaginal exam, but especially after a membrane sweep, as it could cause a bloody show or loss of the mucous plug. (also, we use lube, so there is that!)
You might experience:
- some pain
- increased Braxton hicks contractions
- hopefully contractions 🙌🏽
- light bleeding
Does a membrane sweep induce labor?
This is the golden question; if you haven't figured out my answer by now, I'm doing a poor job. Yes, they can induce labor, but your body needs to be ready and willing. Otherwise, a membrane sweep won't induce labor. Keep reading for my secret formula for a successful membrane sweep labor induction.
How soon after a membrane sweep does labor start?
How soon labor starts depends on your body and how ready for labor your body is when your membrane sweep is performed. For some women, one membrane sweep will not do a thing, while it kicks start labor within hours for others. I have to say; I see the first scenario most often. Your cervix has to be favorable for a sweep to kick start labor, so it is always good to know your numbers going into the appointment, so you don't have too high expectations.
Having a sweep that does not start labor is not a waste of time. In fact, it might just be what you need to start moving in the right direction. Keep your mindset positive!
How do you know if a membrane sweep is working?
The top questions we get in our Labor Bat signal inside birth class is 👉🏼 What are the signs of labor after a membrane sweep? Sometimes, until you start having regular and consistent labor contractions, you might not know if your membrane sweep worked. Below are signs that your membrane sweep is working and labor might be coming.
- Loss of your mucus plug
- A bloody show
- Consistent regular contractions that get more intense and closer together
- Your water breaks (read this post👇🏼)
What are the benefits of a membrane sweep?
Many of my mamas ask me, What are the pros and cons of a membrane sweep? We will chat now about the pros of having your membrane swept. The main benefit is getting you into labor without needing medications or a hospital induction of labor. This will be perfect if you go into labor from a membrane sweep. You can stay home as long as possible before heading in. (check out the video below about when to go to the hospital, FTM edition!
Are there any risks with a membrane sweep?
It is a pretty safe procedure, but a few risks are involved. Your provider should always review all risks and benefits for your situation.
- Bleeding (usually, light it should not be heavy bleeding)
- Rupture of membranes
- Risk of infection
- Pain during procedure
Does a membrane sweep work at 38 weeks?
Many times mamas ask me this on Instagram and inside my private membership. I think a silent alarm triggers when you hit 38 weeks, and your brain tells you it's time for a baby. I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but I will tell you the truth.
If your body isn't ready for labor to start, it is challenging to start it. The answer is complicated. A membrane sweep can work at 38 weeks if your body is ready. But usually, it works better after 40 weeks.
I advise you to slow down and wait for your body to do its thing. Schedule some self-care time and fun activities you cannot do after the baby is here with you!
How many Membrane sweeps do you need?
I usually caution my birth class students and members of our membership that it takes a couple of times to get labor going. You might find the same, so do not be discouraged.
I have found that for most of my students/mamas, it takes 2-3 sweeps to get the ball rolling and for labor to start. But my team doulas and I usually combine that with our unique labor “recipe” plan, including the Miles Circuit, nipple stimulation, and midwives brew. If you want to support and help to navigate, jump into our birth classes and membership, where we will walk alongside you from pregnancy until one year postpartum!
Do you need a Membrane Sweep?
I want to remind you that if you do not want to do any medical interventions to help labor along, you do not have to do this either. It is your choice. And you do not have to be rushed to be induced. As long as you and the baby are healthy and being monitored, it is ok to go to 42 weeks. Knowledge is power if applied. One of my favorite sayings is this; if you don't know your options, you don't have any. It is a powerful truth to let soak in. This is why I spend countless hours weekly hanging out with my LNM mamas inside our classes/membership personally. I want to change the birth culture to one of power, not convenience for others.