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Membrane Sweep: An Alternative Way To Start Labor

The journey of pregnancy is filled with anticipation, excitement, and a fair share of unknowns. One such unknown is the process of labor and the various methods that can be used to either start labor or induce it. Among these methods is the membrane sweep, a natural technique that can help kickstart labor without a formal induction method. This article aims to shed light on how it works, and what to expect during and after the membrane swept induction of the labor procedure.

What is a Membrane Sweep or Membrane Stripping?

membrane sweep

A membrane sweep, also known as membrane sweeping or membrane stripping, is a natural method used to naturally induce labor in pregnant women. It’s a procedure that can be performed by a healthcare provider, typically a midwife or obstetrician, in an outpatient setting. But what is membrane stripping or membrane sweeping added what does it entail? Let’s dive into the details.

In simple terms, membrane sweeping involves a healthcare provider gently sweeping their fingers around thin membranes of the cervix. This action separates the membranes (the amniotic sac) from the cervix, releasing hormones called prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins play a crucial role in the labor process. They help to soften the cervix, a process known as effacement, stimulate labor and promote contractions. By stimulating the release of these hormones, a membrane sweeping can potentially kickstart labor.

Can a Membrane Sweep Induce Labor?

Yes, a membrane sweep can indeed induce labor, and that’s precisely the reason why it’s performed. The procedure is a natural method of stimulating the onset of labor, and it’s often used when a woman is at full term or overdue.

The goal of membrane sweeping is to encourage the body to start labor naturally. While it doesn’t guarantee the immediate onset of labor, research suggests that about 1 in 8 women will go into labor within 48 hours of a membrane sweeping. The procedure is more likely to be effective if the cervix is already soft and slightly open, indicating that the body is preparing for labor.

However, it’s important to note that every woman’s body and every pregnancy is unique. What works for one woman may not work for another. Therefore, if labor doesn’t start within 48 hours after a membrane sweep, healthcare providers may discuss repeating the procedure or exploring other induction methods. As always, it’s crucial to have open and honest discussions with your healthcare provider about the best options for you and your baby.

Why is a Membrane Sweeping Done?

A membrane sweeping is typically offered when a woman is at full term, which is around 40 weeks of pregnancy. It may also be suggested if a woman whose pregnancy is overdue, meaning she’s gone past her expected due date.

The primary goal of membrane sweeping or Stripping is to encourage natural labor and avoid the need for other, more invasive forms of inducing labor or induction, such as the induction of labor through the use of synthetic hormones or a cesarean section. It’s because membrane sweeps are a way of gently nudging the body towards labor, or induction rather than forcefully triggering it.

The Membrane Sweep Procedure

Understanding what to expect during a membrane sweep can help alleviate any anxiety or fear associated with the uncomfortable procedure. Here’s a step-by-step guide on what happens before, during, and after a membrane sweep.

Preparing for a Membrane Sweep

Before the procedure, your healthcare provider will explain the process and ensure you’re comfortable. They’ll discuss the potential risks and benefits and answer any questions you may have. Remember, it’s your body, and you have the right to understand what’s happening.

You may be asked to empty your bladder a few minutes before the procedure, as a full bladder can make the process more uncomfortable and slightly painful. You’ll then be asked to lie down on an examination table, with your feet in stirrups or your knees bent and apart.

How Is The Procedure?

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

There is a chance the membranes will rupture during this procedure and that is OK. That’s a pressing medical reason why membrane sweeping is an optional procedure only performed after you are full-term.

Is a Membrane Sweeping Safe for the Baby?

When considering any procedure during pregnancy, the safety of the baby is a paramount concern. The good news is that membrane sweeping is generally considered safe for the baby.

The procedure is non-invasive and does not involve any medications or instruments that could potentially harm the baby. It simply involves the healthcare provider using their finger to gently separate the membranes from the cervix, which can help to stimulate labor.

However, there is a small risk that the procedure could cause the waters to break prematurely. If this happens, it could potentially lead to complications such as infection or the need for immediate delivery or “spontaneous labour”. This is why the procedure is only recommended when you are at full term, and the baby is ready to be born.

It’s also worth noting that while the procedure itself is safe for the baby, it can cause some discomfort for the mother. Some women experience cramping, spotting, or irregular contractions after a membrane Stripping. These symptoms are usually mild and temporary, but it’s important to monitor them and to contact your healthcare provider if they worsen or persist.

What to Expect After The Procedure

After a membrane sweep, you may experience some mild discomfort, spotting light bleeding, or irregular contractions. These are normal reactions and are usually no cause for concern.

If labor doesn’t start within 48 hours, your healthcare provider may discuss repeating the procedure every few hours or exploring other induction methods to start labor again past your due date. It’s important to monitor your body’s reactions and to contact your healthcare provider if you notice any unusual symptoms that induce labor, such as severe pain, heavy bleeding, or a decrease in your baby’s movements.

Risks and Benefits of a Membrane Sweep

As with any medical procedure, a membrane sweep comes with potential risks and benefits. It’s important to weigh these against each other and to discuss them with your healthcare provider.

Potential Risks

While generally a safe procedure, membrane Stripping can cause discomfort, spotting, bleeding, or irregular contractions. These are usually mild and temporary, but it’s important to monitor your symptoms and to contact your healthcare provider if they worsen or persist.

In rare cases, membrane stripping may accidentally break the water (rupture the membranes), which could be severe pain and require immediate medical attention. There’s also a small risk of infection, although this is very rare.

Potential Benefits

The main benefit of membrane sweeping is that it can help to induce labor naturally, reducing the need for medical interventions like synthetic hormones or a cesarean section to induce spontaneous vaginal delivery. This more spontaneous labor can lead to a more comfortable and empowering birth experience.

Research suggests that a membrane sweep can increase the likelihood of labor starting within 48 hours, especially for overdue women. It can also reduce the risk of pregnancy complications associated with being overdue, such as low amniotic fluid levels or placental insufficiency.

Studies Proving the Benefits of Membrane Sweeping

Several studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness and benefits of membrane sweeping.

One such study, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, analyzed the data of over 3,000 women and found that those who underwent a membrane sweep gave birth within 48 hours compared to those who didn’t receive the procedure. The study also found that membrane sweeping reduced the need for other methods of labor induction.

Another study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that membrane sweeping could reduce the rate of post-term pregnancies (pregnancies that go beyond 42 weeks). The study concluded that membrane sweeping is a safe and effective method for inducing labor, especially for overdue women.

A research review in the American Family Physician also supports the benefits of membrane sweeping. The review noted that membrane sweeping can decrease the likelihood of a pregnancy going beyond 41 weeks and can reduce the need for other labor induction methods.

Membranes Swept


A membrane sweep is a natural method to induce labor, offering a less invasive alternative to other methods of medical labor induction. As with any other medical induction procedure, it’s essential to understand the risks and benefits of membrane swept and to discuss them with your healthcare provider.

Remember, every woman’s body and every pregnancy is unique. What works for one woman may not work for another. The most important thing is to listen to your body, trust your instincts, and make the decisions that feel right for you.

Can I Refuse a Membrane Sweep?

Absolutely. It's your body, and you have the right to refuse any procedure you're not comfortable with. If you're unsure about whether a membrane sweep is right for you, discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider immediately. They can provide you with information and support to help you make an informed decision.

How Effective is a Membrane Sweep?

Effectiveness varies, but research suggests that about 1 in 8 women will go into labor within 48 hours of a membrane sweep. The membrane-stripping procedure is more likely to be effective if the cervix is already soft and slightly open, indicating that the body is preparing for labor.

Does a Membrane Sweep Hurt?

Some women find the procedure uncomfortable, but not necessarily painful. The level of discomfort can depend on factors such as the woman's pain tolerance, the position of the cervix, and the experience of the healthcare provider. It's important to communicate with your healthcare provider during the procedure and to let them know if you're experiencing significant discomfort.

All Things Childcare strives to provide research-based information. While the contents of this article have been fact-checked, we encourage our readers to seek actual medical advice from health professionals.

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