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What is a Membrane Sweep, and Should You Have One?

last month4 min read
Last updated: Jan 20 2023

So you’ve been offered a membrane sweep. What is it, how is it done, and what should you expect to happen afterward? Here’s everything you need to know.

Membrane Sweep

Is your little peanut proving reluctant to leave your nice, warm uterus by your due date?

If so, you may be offered a membrane sweep.











But what exactly is it?

How does it work?

And what can you expect to happen afterward?

Let’s find out.

In this article: 📝

  • What is a membrane sweep?
  • How is a membrane sweep done?
  • How painful is a membrane sweep?
  • Can I give myself a sweep?
  • How effective are membrane sweeps?
  • How long after a membrane sweep does labor start?
  • Should I rest after a membrane sweep?
  • Should you have a membrane sweep?

What is a membrane sweep?

A membrane sweep is a simple procedure designed to help get labor started.

You may also hear it referred to as “stripping membranes.”

The membrane here is the one that connects the amniotic sac around your baby to the wall of your uterus.

The idea of the sweep is to separate it from your cervix (that’s the “neck” between your vagina and uterus).

That separation can trigger the release of chemicals called prostaglandins, kickstarting labor.

How is a membrane sweep done?

Your healthcare practitioner will insert one or two fingers into your cervix and move them around.

This is the “sweeping” motion that gives the procedure its name.

How dilated do you need to be for a membrane sweep?

Your cervix will need to be slightly dilated — around 1 centimeter — for a membrane sweep to work.

How painful is a membrane sweep?

So does a membrane sweep hurt?

Well, there’s no denying it can be quite uncomfortable.

But the good news is that it takes just a few minutes.

If you’ve been doing breathing exercises to help you prepare for labor, you may find these help here too.

Can I give myself a sweep?

A sweep is something you need the training to do safely and effectively.

So while having someone poke your cervix is admittedly not much fun, the DIY approach isn’t recommended.

There are a whole host of other ideas out there, though, for how you can induce labor yourself.

Head here for more options.

How effective are membrane sweeps?

So what is the membrane sweep success rate?

A review of the research published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found membrane sweeps were associated with a 74% lower chance of delivering two weeks or more overdue.

The chances of success are higher if your cervix is already opening and softening as it prepares for labor.

That makes it more likely to work if you’re over 40 weeks pregnant.

For mamas who’ve already had one baby, it’s more effective at closer to 41 weeks.

How long after a membrane sweep does labor start?

So how long after the membrane sweep did labor start?

Well, the literature review found a sweep was associated with a:

  • 24% increase in the chance of having your baby within 48 hours.
  • 46% increase in the chance of that happening within a week.

Every pregnancy is different, though, so there are no guarantees.

Should I rest after a membrane sweep?

Many mamas-to-be wonder what to do after a membrane sweep.

You may experience some cramping or light spotting.

And if you’re feeling tired — pretty likely at this stage in your pregnancy! — take it easy.

The signs of a successful membrane sweep are the same signs as going into labor.

Those include:

  • Cramps, pain, or pressure in your pelvis
  • Contractions
  • Spotting
  • Your waters break
  • You lose your mucus plug
  • You have a bloody show after the membrane sweep.

Check out our blog for more signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away.

(We also have some great tips for when it happens.)

Should you have a membrane sweep?

Having a membrane sweep — or not — is entirely your decision.

There’s a good chance it will help get the party started and bring you closer to meeting your new arrival.

And it could avoid the need for more invasive procedures later.

But everyone’s different.

And unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that a sweep will do the business.

So talk through your options with your healthcare provider.

They’ll be able to answer any questions before you make your choice.

All the best, mama!

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