What does a membrane sweep feel like & do they actually work?!

By the final weeks of pregnancy most moms are desperately searching for a way to induce labor. A membrane sweep is one thing your doctor or midwife may offer to help get things moving.

It’s one of many things that MAY help convince your precious baby that it’s time to join the real world. Below I’ll cover what a membrane sweep is, if they actually work, any risks involved, and share stories from several moms about what it’s actually like to get one.  

membrane sweep effectiveness

What is a membrane sweep?

A membrane sweep is often done in conjunction with a cervical check to see if you are dilated or effaced. If your cervix is still completely closed the doctor can’t do a membrane sweet as they cannot get their fingers up far enough.

If a sweep can be done the doctor will sweep their fingers trying to separate the amniotic sac from the cervix and lower uterus. The action may help separate the sac and can stimulate prostaglandins which may help to jumpstart labor.

It’s also sometimes referred to as a stretch and sweep as they will sometimes try to stretch your cervix slightly as well.

membrane sweep
Photo from pregmed.org

Membrane sweep success rate. Are they effective?

Unfortunately, the answer here is often they are NOT effective. My doctor quoted me as them working 1 in 7 times. Another mom said her midwife told her 1 in 8. This report seems to support the 1 in 8 statistic. Unless your body is on the verge of being ready to go into labor a stretch and sweep is unlikely to be effective.

Cervical checks and membrane sweeps can often be frustrating as well as the doctor may say that you are not dilated at all or very little which can be disappointing.

However, you can go from not dilated at all to having a baby overnight if your body decides its time. You can also walk around at 3cm dilated for a week or more. Sometimes it better not to know and just let nature take its course.

There are also minor risks involved with cervical checks and membrane sweeps. Always discuss the pros and cons with your healthcare provider before agreeing to any procedure.

Are there risks to getting a membrane sweep?

There is a low risk of infection as the procedure does involve the doctor sticking their hand up into sensitive areas. So long as things are clean and the doctor is washing their hands appropriately and using the correct protective equipment the risk is low.

They could also accidently rupture the sac. If labor doesn’t start on its own soon after they would likely want to induce you with something like pitocin as the risk of infections is greatly increased once the sac is ruptured.

This is why such a procedure should only be done by a doctor or midwife. When researching this article, I saw that there were women searching for how to DIY a membrane sweep. Please don’t try to do this procedure on yourself!

Now that you know what a membrane sweep is and the risks involved let’s talk about what you really want to know…what does it feel like and what are other moms’ experiences with the procedure?

What does a membrane sweep feel like? 7 moms share their experience

I asked other moms to share their experiences with getting a membrane sweep. Here are the experiences of myself and 6 other real moms.

Be sure to check out my pregnancy page for great information for every trimester

My personal experience

I had a sweep done at exactly 39 weeks with baby #2. It was extremely uncomfortable, probably made worse by the fact that I waited 40 minutes for the doctor to come in and had a pretty full bladder by the time they did it. The doctor encouraged me to breathe through it but it felt rough and exactly like what it is, having someone’s fingers jabbed up where they aren’t supposed to be. Sadly, it didn’t work for me. It’s been over 48 hours and still no labor.

Update: I must be a glutton for punishment as I let them do another sweep at 40 + 2. It was a last ditch effort on a Friday to try to get things moving before opting for induction the following Monday if baby still refused to come. It was still quite painful but I let her do as much as she could. It seemed to work!

I had contractions off and on all that afternoon and real labor kicked off just after midnight. The same doctor delivered my baby at 6:08am the next day, less than 24 hours after doing the membrane sweep. Baby may have still decided to come on her own but I’m glad the sweep seemed to work and that I avoided induction.

Bailey, from Simply Mom Bailey

The morning my daughter was born, I had a membrane sweep. I had spent the past few days in early labor without much progression and my husband needed to go to back to work unless a baby was going to be born. So, I begged my midwife to consider a sweep despite my hesitations for any interventions. We needed to convince this baby to be born or to stay put for a few more days. How bad could it be?

My cervix still clamps up when I think of the pain of having the membrane swept. It was not a comfortable experience and definitely felt yuck, and weird as she ran her finger to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac. This is something, as a mom to another mom I would not recommend without informed consent and knowing that it doesn’t always result in a baby being born 14 hours later, like in my scenario.

Melinda, from Unfrazzled Mama

My doctor swept my membranes with my first baby at 39 weeks. I didn’t find it to be any more uncomfortable than a regular cervical exam – really not bad! I didn’t have the baby until 10 days later, though, so it didn’t work to speed things up at all. I think 39 weeks may have been too early for the sweeping to be effective. I would recommend waiting until your due date or later to make sure the baby is really ready to come out!

Maygen, from Sneakers & Lipstick

I had my membranes swept not once, not twice, but *four times* as the 42 week mark crept up and I checked natural induction methods off my extensive list. It pinches, it’s uncomfortable, and every time it lead to cramping I thought had to be labor but was not. I eventually had my baby boy after days of labor and who knows if the sweeps were effective or if it was the jumping jacks, spicy foods, acupuncture, or living in downward dog for days on end!

Kristen, from Arrows and Applesauce

 I had it done on my due date with my third. They wanted to induce me (for no reason other than it was my due date) so I agreed to a membrane sweep to shut them up. Felt like she was trying to detach my entire uterus with her fingers!! Hurt like crazy. But I had my healthy baby boy about eight hours later.

Krystal, from Healthy Happy Thrifty Family

I chose to have my membranes swept at 37 weeks with my second child.  They were going to induce me later in the week if I didn’t go into labor, so I thought it was worth a shot.  I didn’t find it painful at all, but it was definitely effective for me!  I was in labor less than 24 hours later.  It was also my fastest and least painful labor.

Chelcey, from Chelceytate.com

Had it done twice… the first time was horribly uncomfortable. Expect a little bit of bleeding afterwards! The second time my doctor accidentally broke my water + I had my baby girl in my arms 12 hours later.

Ready for labor? Check out these birth affirmations to help you deal with labor and delivery.

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