8 Incredible Facts About Membrane Sweeps

(6 minute read)

Let’s learn about membrane sweeps and their purpose, so you can be fully aware of your options if you’re offered one.

Membrane sweeps are a form of intervention. They are offered to you as a means of triggering your labour. A membrane sweep is a bit like an internal examination and doesn’t take long. The midwife or obstetrician puts a finger into your cervix and makes a circular or sweeping motion.

In this article we are going to look at: 

  • What a membrane sweep actually is and it's purpose in birth
  • If a sweep can really induce labor naturally
  • What studies and research tell us about sweeps and the benefits
  • 8 Incredible Facts About Membrane Sweeps

If you still have questions after reading this guide then do contact one of our inhouse healthcare professionals who will be happy to help. Pregnancy

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What is a membrane sweep and what does it do?

A membrane sweep is a method used by healthcare professionals to stimulate and bring on labour as it can increase he production of hormones called prostaglandins. The sweeping motion's purpose is to disrupt the membranes and activating natural labour.

Now, a membrane sweep can be uncomfortable, and it’s not a sure-fire way of going into labour naturally. It all depends on how ready your body is at the time.

You’ll usually be offered a membrane sweep from 40 weeks pregnant during your first pregnancy, or your 41 week appointment if you’ve had a baby before. Remember, it should only ever be offered - and not administered without your consent - and if you don’t want one, then you can refuse! Pregnancy

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Can membrane sweeps really induce labour?!

Is a membrane sweep really a way of inducing labor?! Or is it best to wait for spontaneous labour which should begin in the weeks surrounding your due date? The answer isn't clear cut but for guidance - a stretch and sweep will be more effective the closer you are to your due date. 

As you approach the end of your pregnancy your cervix will begin to soften and move in readiness for labor. Birth can happen at any time but the NHS like to allocate the expected time as a window of between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. The later you go the more likely it is that a sweep will induce labour. 

The decision to accept a sweep should always be coupled the pros, cons and potential risks. These should always be discussed with your midwife who should be helping you to make an informed choice.  

Membrane sweeps: what the data tells us

Research shows that is an increased chance of labour starting 48 hours after a membrane sweep. It's important to look at the relative numbers because a memberane sweep isn't a sure-fire way to bring on labour. In a recent study which reported findings for 6,940 women:

  • 6 out of 10 women went into spontaneous labour without having a membrane sweep
  • 7 out of 10 women went into spontaneous labour after having a membrane sweep
  • 3 out of 10 women who didn't have a membrane sweep had their labour induced
  • 2 out of 10 women who did have a membrane sweep had their labour induced
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8 Incredible Facts About Membrane Sweeps

  1. A membrane sweep is a non-invasive, drug-free method to encourage labour without the use of medications.
  2. For some pregnant women who prefer to avoid medical induction of labour, a membrane sweep can be a more natural option to help kick-start labor.
  3. Studies have suggested that membrane sweeps can increase the likelihood of spontaneous labor starting within the next few days or a week.
  4. If a membrane sweep is successful and labor begins, it may reduce the need for other interventions such as medical induction methods or caesarean section.
  5. The procedure itself can cause discomfort and even pain for some women. The provider must insert their finger into the cervix which can be uncomfortable.
  6. Following a membrane sweep, it is common to experience mild bleeding and cramping. This is usually temporary and subsides within a few hours.
  7. Although a membrane sweep increases the chances of spontaneous labor, there is no guarantee that it will be effective.

8. In rare cases , a membrane sweep may cause the amniotic sac to rupture prematurely, leading to the start of labor. If the membranes rupture before labour begins, it increases the risk of infection and other complications.

This blog was created by Lucy, mum of 2 and creator of butterbean. Winner of the Loved by Parents award 2023 for best innovative maternity product, butterbean is a trusted hub of empowering resources for new and expecting parents. Providing holistic care that’s tailored to your unique journey, butterbean offers a comprehensive hypnobirthing course, a midwife-monitored helpline, personalised pregnancy yoga sessions, and detailed feeding guidance. It’s inclusive of all journey stages and accessible on demand to suit your schedule. Put simply, butterbean is Lucy’s gift to you - from one Mum to another.