Overdue? Your doctor might suggest a membrane sweep

You get to 40 weeks pregnant and are feeling extremely uncomfortable. It seems as though your little one may never come. You may have tried some of the old wives methods to induce labour. A long walk, a hot curry or even sex, but baby is staying put. Your doctor may suggest a membrane sweep, also known as membrane stripping.

ALSO SEE: Inducing labour naturally

What is a membrane sweep?

Membrane stripping, or a sweep, is when your doctor will use his or her gloved hands to perform an internal examination. The doctor will insert their fingers into the cervix moving them in a circular motion. The foetal sac, or membrane, is then gently “sweeped” or lifted off the cervix. The cervix itself is then stretched.

How does a membrane sweep help to induce labour?

The procedure helps to stimulate the release of prostaglandins, a hormone found in the body, which gets labour started by softening the cervix. The cervix needs to ripen and soften in order to dilate. Prostaglandins helps with this. The stretching of the cervix also helps to encourage the ripening and dilating of the mouth of the womb.

When and where is this procedure done?

It’s performed during your routine check-up with the doctor or midwife between 38 and 40 weeks into pregnancy and it’s done in the doctor’s rooms or clinic. The whole procedure doesn’t take long. It’s not usually painful as such, but can feel very uncomfortable. All you need to do is hop on the examination bed and try to stay calm and relaxed. Your doctor or midwife will only do a membrane sweep if all conditions are now favourable for delivery. There’s no special preparation for this procedure.

What can I expect afterwards?

There is a strong likelihood that following a stretch and sweep, labour will follow within 24 to 48 hours. It does, however, largely depend on just how ready or favourable your cervix is. As the cervix itself is highly vascular and the mucus plug within the cervix may be dislodged, you can experience a mucus blood-stained discharge. You may start to feel mild contractions as labour starts.

ALSO SEE: Five signs of approaching labour

Is a membrane sweep safe?

A membrane sweep is a safe option to try and induce labour as a first line before resorting to any other methods of induction. It can be uncomfortable to painful, but is over quite quickly and can be effective for a mom whose body needs a gentle push in the right direction. It can also be repeated several times leading up to labour if need be.

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