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 for worry. But if your baby is more than ten or 12 days late, the risk of stillbirth starts getting higher – though it is still low. Doctors are unsure of the reason for this but one thought is that the placenta might not be working as well as it used to.

The first thing you may be offered is a membrane sweep. The membrane sweep makes it more likely that you will go into labour naturally and won’t need to have your labour induced.

The membrane sweep usually happens wherever you normally see your midwife rather than in a hospital. It does not take long. It is a bit like an internal examination. The midwife puts a finger inside your vagina and reaches the cervix. She makes a circular, or sweeping, movement with her fingers. The point of it is to separate the sac surrounding your baby from the cervix.

Doing a sweep helps to release natural hormones that stimulate contractions so it may get labour started. You can have more than one sweep.

There is a 50 percent chance that a sweep will start your labour within 24 hours but if it doesn't you may be offered a date for induction. If you prefer, you can ask to have one or more extra sweeps before making a decision about induction.

A membrane sweep can be uncomfortable for some women and there may be some vaginal bleeding afterwards.

Read more


  1. NICE (2008) Clinical Guideline 70: Induction of labourhttp://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg70/resources/guidance-induction-of-labour-pdf
  2. NICE (2008) information for public, Induction of labour:http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg70/ifp/chapter/before-you-are-offered-induction


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Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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