What is a Membrane Sweep? Risks, Benefits, Pros, Cons, and Everything in Between!

Curious about membrane sweeps? You are in the right place! There are several different things you can do to help get the ball rolling when it comes to jump starting labor, and a membrane sweep is one of them. If a sweep is successful at inducing labor, you should go into labor within 48 hours of it being done.  

So, what exactly is a membrane sweep? Here’s a hint, it has nothing to do with actual broom sweeping! A membrane sweep is essentially a way to try and naturally induce labor.

Read on to learn more about membrane sweeps, what to expect during and after one, success rates, risks and benefits, and other things you can do to get labor started. 

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What is a membrane sweep?

A membrane sweep aka stripping your membranes involves your provider “sweeping” their gloved finger between the thin membrane of the amniotic sac and your cervix. This sweeping motion helps to separate the amniotic sac from your cervix and in turn can release prostaglandins, which can trigger your uterus to begin contracting. 

In order for your provider to strip your membranes, they will need to do a cervical exam to see how dilated you are. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to do the sweep if you aren’t at least 1 centimeter dilated because they won’t be able to get their finger into your cervix.

Aside from being at least 1 cm dilated, there also might be a week requirement before you can have your membranes swept. The providers I work with won’t strip your membranes until you are at least 39 weeks pregnant, but I have heard other providers that will do them earlier.

Fair warning – membrane sweeps don’t always work, but if you are nearing the end of your pregnancy and want to try and avoid a medical induction, it might be worth a try to help kickstart your labor!

Related Instagram Post: Squat 300 times a day, you’re going to give birth very quickly!

What to expect after a membrane sweep?

Your cervix is extremely vascular (it has lots of blood vessels!), so it can be normal for you to experience some light bleeding during and after the sweep. You might also feel:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Lower back discomfort
  • Mild contractions

Otherwise, you should feel pretty normal afterwards or at least until it potentially works, which we’ll get into more below! If you experience a lot of bleeding or are in severe pain after the membrane sweep, immediately notify your provider or go to the hospital to be evaluated. 

Why do people get membrane sweeps?

Quite simply, people get membrane sweeps to help jumpstart their labor! Often this is in order to avoid a medical induction when you are past due, but sometimes people request membrane sweeps prior to their due date to help get the ball rolling! 

Related Reading: Natural Ways to Induce Labor: I Have the Answers!

Tips for your membrane sweep

While it doesn’t take long to perform one, a lot of women find a membrane sweep to be pretty uncomfortable – I definitely think it’s good to be aware of this going into it. Keep in mind, you don’t have to get a membrane sweep so feel free to decline if the potential discomfort is something that concerns you! 

Here are some tips that might make your membrane sweep a little easier for you. 

  • Empty your bladder 
    • A full, or even semi-full bladder can make it more uncomfortable so save yourself the trouble and empty it just before 
  • Take a deep breath and relax
    • Right before the membrane sweep, take a deep breath in through the nose and slowly exhale through the mouth. As you exhale, fully relax your pelvic floor
    • The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be for your provider to strip your membranes and the less discomfort you will experience
  • Wiggle your toes
    • This is one of my favorite tips for mamas that have difficulty with cervical checks! 
    • Sometimes wiggling your toes during a cervical exam is enough to relax and distract you. It may or may not work for you but it’s definitely worth trying! 

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Membrane sweep success rate

As I previously mentioned, if your membrane sweep is successful at inducing labor, you should go into labor within 48 hours. According to the Cleveland Clinic, one study showed that 90% of those who had a membrane sweep gave birth by 41 weeks compared to 75% who did not have it done. That’s a pretty good success rate if you ask me!

Signs of a successful membrane sweep 

There are several positive signs after a membrane sweep that indicate it might have been successful including: 

  • Contractions
  • Spontaneous rupture of membranes
  • Abdominal cramping or pelvic pain
  • Losing your mucus plug
  • Bloody show

It is expected to experience bloody show after a membrane sweep, but if you experience any of the following symptoms you should promptly notify your provider or go to the hospital for evaluation. 

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Clots
  • Severe pain
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Any other unexpected symptoms 

Related Reading: Using Pineapple Juice to Induce Labor? Does it REALLY WORK?

Risks and benefits of a membrane sweep

Risks

A membrane sweep doesn’t come without risks. Read below for some things to consider before requesting one.

  • Discomfort 
    • Stripping your membranes can be pretty uncomfortable
    • Do keep in mind that it usually take less than 1 or 2 minutes, start to finish. Feel free to ask your provider to stop the sweep at any point if the pain becomes severe
    • In addition to the pain that comes during the sweep, you may also experience abdominal cramping for several hours after
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Rupture of membranes
    • In rare situations, your water may accidentally break while your provider is stripping your membranes
    • If this happens to you, your provider will discuss next steps, which could include going home to see if labor kicks in on its own or being admitted to the hospital
  • Irritable uterus 
    • Another possible downside is that your uterus may become irritable, causing you to painfully contract, but not actually throwing you into full-blown labor
  • Must be dilated at least 1 cm
    • If your cervix is closed and your provider can’t get a finger into your cervix, then they will not be able to do the membrane sweep

Benefits

The biggest benefit is it could put you into labor, hopefully within 48 hours or so! In addition to kickstarting labor, research has shown that a membrane sweep can help lower your chances of needing an induction of labor if your pregnancy goes past 41 weeks. 

If it is successful, you might be able to avoid labor-inducing methods and medications such as Pitocin, a foley balloon, artificially breaking your water, or other invasive techniques.

Finally, studies show that a membrane sweep can decrease your pregnancy by 1 to 4 days with most of them showing an average of 2.5 days. That means possibly 2.5 fewer days of being pregnant and 2.5 extra days with your baby!

Now that you’ve learned about the pros and cons of a membrane sweep, I encourage you to talk to your provider to determine if one is right for you!

What to do after a membrane sweep

There’s not much that you need to do after a membrane sweep. The biggest thing is to make sure your hospital bags are packed and wait for labor to (hopefully) begin! It would also be a good idea to tie up any loose ends around the house.

Wrapping up

A membrane sweep is one of the many things that can be utilized to help labor begin spontaneously. But did you know there are tons of other things you can try to naturally induce labor?

Check out these blog articles to learn more:

Or these posts over on Instagram:

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Liesel Teen, BSN-RN
Founder, Mommy Labor Nurse

Meet Liesel Teen

Hi there. I’m Liesel!

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

When you know what to expect and have the tools to navigate the experience, you’ll feel confident and in control.

I believe you deserve a better birth — no matter how you deliver.