To sweep or not to sweep… that is the question! And it may well be YOUR question at the end of your pregnancy as you may be offered a SWEEP. Sometimes they’re also called a ‘membrane sweep’ or a ‘stretch and sweep’.
A sweep involves your midwife inserting their finger into your cervix
You’ll be asked to lie on your back and your midwife or doctor will insert their finger into your vagina and try to insert it into your cervix. For them to do this your cervix will need to be a little bit open (1cm or so). They then ‘sweep’ their finger around inside your cervix, aiming to separate your cervix from your baby’s bag of waters. This stimulation can potentially stimulate your cervix and encourage your labour to start. A sweep is an intervention and (arguably) the first step of the induction process.
Evidence shows that a sweep can encourage your labour to start sooner…
There have been a lot of randomised trials into sweeps They showed that if you have a sweep at 41 WEEKS pregnant, it pretty much cuts your chance of going past 42 weeks in half. Research also shows a sweep reduces your chance of needing a formal induction if you have a longer pregnancy, and can also prevent the need for induction medications.
Sounds amazing, eh?
… BUT before you rush to book your sweep, consider the RISKS too
Evidence shows that many women do find sweeps very uncomfortable, but the main risk is your WATERS BREAKING. Evidence shows that there’s a 10% chance of this happening. If your waters break and you don’t go into labour within 24 hours, you’ll be offered a medical induction.
So, should I have a sweep or not?
A sweep is an intervention and ultimately involves someone putting their fingers in your vagina so it’s ABSOLUTELY YOUR CHOICE. As such, you always need to give your CONSENT for a sweep to be carried out. Here are a few things to consider to help you decide whether or not to have a sweep:
- How many weeks pregnant are you? Would you prefer to wait a bit longer to see if labour starts naturally and avoid the chance of your waters being broken accidentally?
- Are you booked in for a medical induction? If yes, a sweep might encourage your body to go into labour rather than needing medications. Typically you’ll be offered 2 or 3 sweeps usually with a day or 2 in between each so if you’re booked in for a medical induction, you might want to consider them in the days shortly before this.
- Are there any special circumstances about your pregnancy that might impact your decision?
- Boulvain, M., Stan, C.M., Irion, O. (2010). Membrane sweeping for induction of labour (review). The Cochrane Library 2005(1).
- De Miranda, E., van der Bom, J.G., Bonsel, G.J., et al. (2006). Membrane sweeping and prevention of post-term pregnangy in low-risk pregnancies. BJOG (113), 402-408.
- Hill, M. J., McWilliams, G. D., Garcia-Sur, D., et al. (2008). The effect of membrane sweeping on prelabor rupture of membranes: a randomized controlled trial. Obstetrics and Gynecology 111(6): 1313-9.
- Tan, P.C., Jacob, R., Omar, S.Z. (2006). Membrane sweeping at initiation of formal labor induction. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 107, 569-577.
- Wong, S.F., Hui, S.K., Choi, H., & Ho, L.C. (2002). Does sweeping of membranes beyond 40 weeks reduce the need for formal induction of labor? BJOG (107), 632-636.
- Yildirim, G., Güngördük, K., Karada, Ö. İ., et al. (2010). Membrane sweeping to induce labor in low-risk patients at term pregnancy: A randomised controlled trial. Journal Of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 23(7), 681-687.