The simple, (almost) painless procedure that may kick-start labor


Has your due date come and gone with no signs of your little one? Talk to your doctor or midwife about performing a membrane sweep.

What is it?

When we talk about inducing labor, we generally refer to two camps: On one side, there’s the natural, at-home remedies that are questionable in their efficacy. These include eating hot, spicy foods, massaging pressure points and ingesting castor oil. On the other end, there are in-hospital procedures such as administering Pitocin by IV, breaking your water and manually dilating your cervix with a catheter balloon (sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?). When you just can’t stomach another jalapeno pepper – but you’re not ready for an IV drip, your health care provider may green light a membrane sweep.

Stripping the membranes means your doctor or midwife will manually separate the amniotic sac from your uterine wall. This is a simple, though not entirely painless procedure. Think of it as a glorified cervical check, where your doctor or midwife will insert a gloved finger into the cervix and complete a circular motion. For some women, this process can be uncomfortable, though rest assured, it lasts only a few minutes.

How well does it work?

In an ideal world, you’ll have your membranes stripped and hours later, feel your first contractions. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence-based research here, though some studies do support the claim that membrane sweeps kick-start labor – especially in women who are already 41 weeks pregnant. There are few risks associated with the procedure, so while it may not be helpful, you have little to lose by requesting it.

What to expect

The procedure takes only a few minutes and can be done during a routine visit to your doctor or midwife. A membrane sweep may be repeated by your health care provider to encourage contractions. You may experience some discomfort and cramping during the process. Afterward, you may feel light cramping that gives way to your first contractions. These may be irregular at first, though if all goes well, will grow stronger, longer and closer together. During this time, you may also see some light spotting that’s pink, brown or red – and contains a bit of mucous. In the unlikely event you experience heavy bleeding, get in contact with your doctor or midwife right away.

Would you ever consider asking your doctor or midwife to perform a membrane sweep? Talk to other moms-to-be and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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