If you’re 38, 39, or 40 weeks pregnant, you are probably desperate to get that baby out. In those later appointments, your doctor might ask you if you’d like to have a membrane sweep done to encourage labor to start. I had never heard of a membrane sweep before I had kids, so I had no clue what my doctor was talking about!
What is a membrane sweep?
There is a thin sac that sits just inside the opening of your cervix that holds the baby. When a doctor performs a membrane sweep, he or she will insert a couple of fingers into your uterus and “sweep” that thin lining away from the muscles of your uterus. The hope is that this action will cause you to produce the hormones that cause labor, and make you go into labor on your own without any further interventions.
Watch the video below for a great visual of how a membrane sweep is performed!
Are membranes sweeps effective?
Membrane sweeps are not as effective as we wish they were. This is especially true if you’re still a week or two away from your due date. Research shows that you might not go into labor right after you have your membranes swept, but it might decrease the length of your pregnancy by a few days, even if you don’t have the baby for a couple of weeks after you have the membrane sweep done. For example, if you would have gone to 41 weeks without the membrane sweep, it might make you go into labor at 40 weeks and 4 days.
If you are past your due date, a membrane sweep might be more likely to put you into labor and avoid the need to be induced. It’s definitely best to go into labor on your own, and a membrane sweep can help move things along. There are not a lot of risks associated with having a membrane sweep done, so there is no harm in having your provider do it for you.
Are there risks to having a membrane sweep done?
As with any medical procedure, there are always pros and cons. The biggest risk is that there’s about a 10% chance of the procedure causing your water to break. If your water breaks and you don’t start having contractions on your own, then you’ll probably have to be induced with pitocin. With my first baby, my water broke before I started having any contractions, so I opted to not have my membranes swept try to avoid that the second time around. It didn’t work, and my water still broke before labor, but oh well.
Membrane sweeping can also cause you to have bleeding and experience contractions. Sometimes these lead to labor, but sometimes they don’t and they just make those last few days of pregnancy that much more uncomfortable.
I’ve heard some rumors of women trying to do DIY membrane sweeps. Don’t do that! You could potentially harm yourself or your baby. Since you should be getting regular medical care during your pregnancy anyway, there is no reason to try to do it yourself. Leave it to the professionals!
Are membrane sweeps painful?
I had a membrane sweep done with my first, and I didn’t find it to be that terrible of an experience. It was no worse than getting a pap smear done. It wasn’t comfortable, but I wouldn’t say that it hurt.
Some women say that it really does hurt, though, so just be prepared for it to not be the most pleasant experience of your life. Even if you do experience some pain, labor will probably be a lot more challenging so you might as well get used to it!
How to encourage labor after a sweep
There’s lots of things you can try to encourage labor after a sweep. Go for a walk, bounce on the birthing ball, or have sex. There’s limited evidence that any of those things actually work to induce labor, but none of them are considered risky so there’s no harm in trying!
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to have a membrane sweep done at the end of your pregnancy! If you definitely don’t want to have the procedure done, make sure to let your doctor know. Some providers will do the sweep on everyone as a general practice without even informing you!
Melinda worked with children for years in a professional setting before becoming a full-time stay at home mom. She currently has three young children, and enjoys sharing tips and ideas about parenting and how to manage a home with excellence. She’s been featured on Heathline and Her View From Home.