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

  • A happy mother with her newborn baby.

    Delayed cord clamping (DCC)

    Cutting the cord immediately after the birth has been routine practice for 50-60 years but more recently research is showing that it is not good for the baby.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    What to expect when your waters break

    Your waters can break before you go in to hospital but they are more likely to break during labour, or they can even be broken for you by your midwife to speed up your labour (a process known as artificial rupture of membranes).

  • 5 positive ways to prepare for labour

    Manage your anxieties about giving birth, with some helpful advice from mums who’ve been there.

  • Pregnant woman sitting on exercise mat.

    Getting your baby into the best birth position

    The final few weeks of pregnancy can be difficult: You’re probably feeling impatient to meet your baby, nervous about labour and also tired of coping with carrying a heavy load - and all the niggles that come with it.

  • Woman in hospital bed ready to give birth.

    What to do when labour starts

    The moment has arrived. Your contractions are regular and building up, and your baby is really on his or her way…

  • Woman holding her back in discomfort.

    Symptoms of labour

    From contractions to your waters breaking, these are the typical signs that your body is getting ready for labour.

  • A plate of spicy curry.

    Can anything bring labour on?

    The waiting game can be torturous. Your due date has been and gone, you feel the size of a mothership and you’re oh so tired of waddling to the loo every five minutes.

  • Woman in labour wearing gas and air breathing mask.

    Pain relief in labour and birth

    There are quite a few pain-relief options available and it’s good to know what they are before you go into labour.

  • Woman lying in hospital bed ready to give birth.

    Assisted birth

    Even if labour has got off to a good start, it can sometimes slow down or problems may arise. If so, you may need some help to deliver your baby safely. These procedures are called ‘interventions’.

  • caesarean section

    Caesarean section

    A caesarean section is an operation where an obstetrician makes a cut in your stomach and womb and lifts your baby out through it.

  • Woman lying on hospital bed ready to give birth.

    Induction of labour - information about having labour induced

    In most pregnancies, labour will start on its own but in some situations your labour may need to be started artificially. This is called 'induction’ of labour.

  • Woman in labour.

    Monitoring your baby in labour

    Your midwife will check on how your baby is coping during your labour and there are different ways to do this.


  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


Hide details

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

Was this information useful?

Yes No


Your comment

Add new comment