This guide will tell you all you need to know about membrane sweeps, and hopefully dispel any horrible myths you may have heard about them, too!
What is a sweep?
Its full name is a membrane sweep and your midwife will suggest it as the first option when you're overdue, i.e. once you're more than 40 weeks pregnant. What happens, simply, is that your midwife or doctor will ask you to lie down with your feet together and your knees to each side. When you're as comfortable as you can be they will then insert a finger inside you and pass it around your cervix. This will slightly separate the membranes of the amniotic sac surrounding the baby from your cervix and release hormones that will hopefully kick-start your labour.
We won't lie, it can hurt and you'll be told to try to relax and breathe deeply as they work their finger around. Janet Fyle, midwife advisor for the Royal College of Midwifery says, 'the sweep, which is simply a regular internal examination, often wakes up the cervix to do its job and progress the woman into labour. It can be uncomfortable and painful, but labour does become more likely after a sweep and so reduces the need for being induced.'
Sometimes your midwife or doctor will suggest you will need a 'Stretch and Sweep'. This means you're not quite ready for a membrane sweep so instead the midwife will stretch and massage your cervix. This may begin the 'ripening' of your cervix so your next appointment with the midwife will be for a full-on sweep.
Although you don't need to prepare yourself for a sweep, you may want to gear yourself up a little for a few minutes of pain. Just like having an injection, you're not going to enjoy the experience, but just think, it will bring you closer to meeting your little one! Also, it might be an idea to wear a pantyliner or maternity towel, just in case of any spotting after the sweep, many women choose to wear one by this stage in their pregnancy anyway.
When would I need one?
When you've reached 40 weeks after your last period you're considered full-term. It's not good for you or your baby to go too long after this date to give birth. If you're a first-time mum you'll most likely be offered a sweep at your 40-week antenatal appointment with the midwife, and again at 41 weeks.
If you've already had a baby, you'll be offered a sweep at 41 weeks. Sweeps are your first option before the midwife suggests inducing your labour. It means your body kick-starts labour itself and so you release the right levels of hormones for your body's labour to begin. It's thought that an induced labour can be more painful than a naturally begun one because the hormone levels are set by a doctor. Most mums find the labour an induction brings on is more intense and painful. Sweeps are not without pain, unfortunately, and you can end up having 2 or 3 before labour starts or before an induction is suggested.
Remember, just in the same way as you can ask for a sweep, you can also say no if you'd rather wait and see if nature takes its course. If you do decide to wait, the midwives will be keen to keep an eye on your progress every day that you go beyond your due date.
What can I expect to happen after a membrane sweep?
'We tell women to carry on as normal after their sweep but they must keep an eye out for any changes. There can be a little blood, it can also bring on the 'show' and, of course, it will hopefully make labour happen,' says Janet Fyle.
What other mums thought:'I was dubious over whether a sweep would work or not but I went
in for the procedure, went on with my day and few hours later I was in
labour, a quick one and in less than 24 hours I had my baby girl.' Jo B
'I had 2 or 3 sweeps with my first baby and it was useless. A very unpleasant experience too. Some say it works but you never know if the baby was just ready.' Lorna C
Had a membrane sweep yourself? Or considering it? Let us know your experiences or any tips for other mums-to-be in our comments area below.