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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.