Membrane Sweep: Benefits, Risks & How It Works


What is a membrane sweep?

A membrane sweep is a procedure during which your GP/midwife runs a gloved finger across the membranes that connect the amniotic sac (a fluid-filled sac containing your baby) to the uterus. It is only possible if your cervix has begun to dilate, not if it is still closed. Separating the amniotic membranes from the uterus shortens the labor process in pregnant women. Membrane sweeps help release chemicals known as prostaglandins by your body. Prostaglandins soften and prepare your cervix for labor. A membrane sweep does not guarantee that labor or contractions will begin. It’s an optional procedure that your GP/midwife may recommend as you approach or pass your due date.

It is also referred to as membrane stripping or sweeping the membranes.

Why is a GP/midwife going to sweep my membranes?

Your GP may advise you to sweep your membranes to induce labor. It’s done when your cervix is partially dilated (or open), but contractions haven’t started or have stopped. It is performed around 39 or 40 weeks of pregnancy to avoid needing a medically induced labor. 

Pregnancies lasting longer than 41 or 42 weeks put you and your baby at risk of complications. Membrane sweeps are frequently recommended as the first option for starting labor naturally before scheduling an induction date.

When do membrane sweeps occur during pregnancy?

Membrane sweeps are usually done at 39 weeks or later in pregnancy, but they can be done up until 42 weeks. It would be best if you were slightly dilated for your healthcare provider to perform the sweep. If you are at high risk or have underlying medical conditions, your healthcare provider may decide that a membrane sweep is not safe for you.

How does the GP/midwife perform a membrane sweep?

At around 40 weeks of pregnancy, a membrane sweep is performed during a vaginal or cervical exam. However, it can sometimes be done sooner than 40 weeks if your healthcare provider believes there is a medical reason to try to induce labor naturally.

Your healthcare provider will insert one or two gloved fingers into your cervix and sweep a circular motion around the top of the cervical opening. It helps separate the amniotic sac from the uterine walls without rupturing the sac (breaking your water). Also, it triggers your body to release prostaglandins. This hormone softens, thins, and dilates the cervix to prepare you for labor.

The membranes may rupture during this procedure, which is fine. That is why membrane sweeping is only done after you have reached full term.

What happens after a membrane sweep?
Membrane Sweep           

It is common to experience some mild bleeding just after a membrane sweep. Some people experience contractions, cramping, or mild discomfort after the procedure. Contact your healthcare provider when the bleeding becomes heavy, or you experience severe pain.

There is no guarantee that labor will start once your membranes have been stripped. However, studies have shown membrane sweeps help start labor before 42 weeks and can help avoid a medical induction. Membrane sweeps may be more effective if the following conditions are met:

  • Your cervix is “favorable.” Which means it has softened, thinned, and dilated.
  • You are more than 40 weeks pregnant (on or past your due date).
  • You’re already in the early stages of labor.

What are the positive signs after a membrane sweep?

Positive signs after a membrane sweep indicate that your body has responded well and that labor is progressing. Signs of a successful membrane sweep include contractions becoming more regular, the loss of your mucus plug, your water breaking, or your cervix becoming more dilated.

When does labor begin after a membrane sweep?

After a membrane sweep, most women experience labor within 48 hours. However, because every person and every pregnancy is unique, it’s difficult to predict how long it will take for your labor to begin (or if it will).                                                                                                                                                                                         

How painful is a membrane sweep?

Although the procedure is only a few minutes long, it can be uncomfortable or slightly painful. Some describe it as a painful cervical exam. You should expect some discomfort during and immediately after the membrane You might experience contractions within a few hours if the sweep was successful.

What are the benefits of getting a membrane sweep?

A membrane sweep increases your chances of labor naturally and avoids a medical or planned induction. A medical or planned induction involves administering medication to initiate labor. After 39 weeks of pregnancy, most people are eager to meet their baby (and probably starting to feel a little uneasy). So the possibility that a membrane sweep will bring you closer to seeing your baby is a bonus.

Are there any risks involved with a membrane sweep?  

Although membrane sweeping is generally safe, there are some risks, aside from the discomfort, you will experience during the procedure. You may bleed afterward. It can also cause cramping, which can be mistaken for contractions. In addition, there is a small chance that your water will break (the amniotic sac will rupture), which has risks.

Discuss the benefits and risks of a membrane sweep with your GP.  Advised for women who are showing signs of needing a Cesarean section (C-section) due to other medical conditions. The Nurturey pregnancy app allows you to schedule an appointment with your GP or midwife immediately.    

About Nurturey 

If you need access to membrane sweep NHS info, Nurturey PinkBook is the way to go. Nurturey’s PinkBook is a “digital substitute” for the NHS’s Red Book. Pregnant women and parents can use the PinkBook to access their child’s health records, view upcoming health checkups, and get trusted information from the NHS about their stage in the pregnancy journey. If you are pregnant and have concerns, use the Nurturey pregnancy app to immediately schedule an appointment with your doctor or midwife. You can also make appointments, refill prescriptions, and communicate with your doctor.                                                      


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