What is a membrane sweep?

The membrane sweep is a drug-free way of helping to bring on labour when you are going past your due date.

If your baby is only a couple of days late, there is no reason to worry. But if your pregnancy lasts longer than 42 weeks there is a higher risk of stillbirth, although most babies stay healthy.

Your midwife will probably talk to you about your options for bringing on labour at your 38 week antenatal visit, including a membrane sweep (also known as a cervical sweep).

What happens during a membrane sweep?

This is a bit like an internal examination and doesn’t take long. The midwife or obstetrician puts a finger into the cervix and makes a circular or sweeping movement with their fingers. The point of it is to separate the sac surrounding your baby from the cervix.

A membrane sweep can be uncomfortable and can cause some light bleeding, but it also makes it more likely that you will go into labour naturally.

You should be offered a membrane sweep at your 40 and 41 week antenatal appointments during your first pregnancy or your 41 week appointment if you’ve had a baby before. If labour doesn’t start after this, you can ask for additional membrane sweeps.

You don’t have to have a membrane sweep if you don’t want one. There are other things you could try to bring on labour naturally, although none of these have been medically proven.

You can also have an induction. This means starting labour artificially.  

Find out more about induced labour.
 
 

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Sources

NHS Choices. You and your baby at 42 weeks pregnant. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/42-weeks-pregnant/ (Page last reviewed: 17/07/2018. Next review due: 17/07/2021)

NICE (2014). Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies. National Institute for health and care excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190

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Last reviewed on June 5th, 2019. Next review date June 5th, 2022.

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