Is Stretch and Sweep Safe for Inducing Labor?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan PhD, MSN , CNE,COI on April 6, 2016Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BN, CCRN on April 6, 2016

You’ve reached your due date or have gone past it, but still haven’t gone into labor. At this point, your doctor may offer you additional options to welcome your baby into the world.

One option is inducing labor with medicine that stimulates contractions. Another option is called a “stretch and sweep.” Stretch and sweep is also known as membrane sweeping, or stripping of membranes. This option is thought to stimulate labor without administering medications or performing a cesarean delivery.

Here’s what to expect during and after membrane sweeping.

How do doctors perform a membrane sweep?

Your membranes are another name for the amniotic sac. This is where your baby grows and develops for nine months. Doctors may perform a membrane sweep in a doctor’s office, at home, or at a hospital. The process typically takes less than 10 minutes. Your doctor will first apply sterile gloves.

Your doctor will then perform a cervical examination to determine if your cervix is open. If the cervix is open, they will insert a finger into your cervix and perform a sweeping motion. This will separate your membranes from your cervix. If the cervix isn’t open, a stretch and sweep can’t be performed.

Why is a membrane sweep used?

A membrane sweep is intended to stimulate the release of hormones known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormones that are associated with labor because they cause smooth muscle contractions. This includes contractions of the uterus that can lead to labor. The contractions are thought to “ripen” the cervix, or cause the cervix to soften so that a baby can more easily pass through the birth canal.

Doctors intend for a stretch and sweep to stimulate labor within 48 hours. But if a stretch and sweep doesn’t prove successful, a doctor may make further recommendations for inducing labor, depending on how far along you are and the health of you and your baby.

Some women shouldn’t have a stretch and sweep.

Doctors won’t usually perform a stretch and sweep if:

  • baby’s head isn’t pointing downward
  • you aren’t 40 weeks pregnant or more
  • you have a vaginal infection
  • your membranes have already ruptured (your water has broken)
  • your placenta is low-lying

There isn’t any data to indicate that stretch and sweep increases the risk of infection to mother and baby when it’s properly performed.

Is a stretch and sweep safe?

According to a review of study data published in The Cochrane Review, stretch and sweep performed at term labor was associated with reduced labor duration and pregnancy duration. The review examined 22 studies that included nearly 3,000 women. However, the study did find that women who underwent stretch and sweep reported symptoms such as bleeding, irregular contractions, and discomfort during vaginal examination.

Risks and alternatives of stretch and sweep

Stretch and sweep can cause side effects, including:

  • bloody show or mild bleeding (may appear brown with time)
  • cramping that can feel like menstrual cramping
  • discomfort during the procedure
  • irregular contractions

There’s also a risk that a stretch and sweep could break the amniotic sac. This is sometimes known as your water breaking. Some women can have irregular contractions, and they may not necessarily lead to labor.

If you experience side effects like bleeding bright red blood, your water breaking, or intense pain that doesn’t decrease with time, call your doctor. You shouldn’t attempt to perform a stretch and sweep on yourself. Only a licensed professional should do it.

The takeaway

Stretch and sweep is a process thought to increase a woman’s likelihood for going into labor spontaneously, without the interventions of medications and/or surgery. Women who wish to go into labor naturally may prefer this option when compared to medical induction. If the stretch and sweep isn’t effective the first time, a doctor may repeat it at a later time, usually a week later. They usually won’t perform the procedure two days apart or less.

If your body doesn’t respond to this, medical induction or a cesarean delivery may be necessary. This is because there are risks if your pregnancy goes past 42 weeks. For example, the placenta may not be able to provide enough oxygen to your baby at 42 weeks. Talk to your doctor about options to stimulate labor, and the risks and benefits.

Q:

I’ve gone past my due date and my doctor recommended inducing labor. What are the safest options for me and my baby-to-be?

A:

Your doctor’s recommendation may very well be the safest option for you and your baby-to-be. If you are two weeks past your due date, your baby is likely larger (complicating vaginal delivery) and has an aging placenta. Natural labor is usually recommended over induced labor because your body makes proper adjustments for natural childbirth. Induced labor comes with an increased risk of a cesarean delivery and bleeding after delivery. You will be closely monitored. Your doctor will help you determine the safest option for you and your baby.

Dr. Debra SullivanAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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