Have you ever heard this term, membrane sweeping? It sounds funny and kinda weird, and honestly, where did this name even come from? No, your membrane does not need a good cleaning. So what is this anyway and do you need one?
Membrane sweeps, also known as cervical sweeps or membrane stripping, are a common labor intervention used to stimulate labor and avoid medical induction. This procedure is typically performed by a healthcare provider, who inserts their fingers into the cervix to separate the amniotic sac from the uterine wall. While membrane sweeps are widely used and considered a safe and low-risk procedure, there are both potential benefits and drawbacks to consider before deciding to undergo one. In this blog post, we will discuss the pros and cons of membrane sweeps for labor intervention.
Avoiding medical induction: One of the primary benefits of membrane sweeps is that they can help stimulate labor and prevent the need for medical induction. Medical induction is typically recommended when labor has not started spontaneously after 41 weeks of pregnancy, or if there are medical concerns about the health of the mother or baby. However, induction is associated with an increased risk of complications, such as a higher likelihood of needing a cesarean section or experiencing more painful contractions. By avoiding medical induction, a woman can potentially have a smoother labor and delivery experience.
Can lead to a shorter labor: Research suggests that membrane sweeps can help shorten the duration of labor. One study found that women who underwent a membrane sweep had a shorter duration of the first stage of labor, as well as a reduced need for medical induction or intervention. This can help a woman to have a faster and more efficient labor, which can be particularly beneficial for women who are experiencing a long or difficult labor.
Can increase the chance of vaginal birth: A membrane sweep can also help to increase the chance of a vaginal birth. When labor is induced, there is an increased risk of needing a cesarean section, particularly if the cervix is not yet favorable for delivery. By stimulating labor naturally, a membrane sweep can help to avoid the need for a cesarean section and increase the chance of a vaginal birth.
Can be uncomfortable or painful: Membrane sweeps can be uncomfortable or even painful for some women. During the procedure, the healthcare provider inserts their fingers into the cervix and moves them around to separate the membranes from the uterine wall. This can cause cramping, discomfort, or even pain. While the discomfort is usually short-lived, it can be a significant drawback for some women.
Does not always work: While membrane sweeps are effective for some women, they do not always work. Research suggests that the success rate of membrane sweeps is around 24-48%, meaning that roughly half of women who undergo the procedure will still require medical induction or intervention. This can be frustrating for women who are hoping to avoid medical intervention, as it means they may still need to undergo induction or cesarean delivery.
Can compromise your amniotic sac and there is some evidence that says it could lead to a premature rupture of membranes. If people with PROM are not induced, around 45% will go into labor within 12 hours (Shalev et al., 1995; Zlatnik, 1992). However, many providers will want you to come into the hospital and start induction immediately. This is another reason it is so important to find a provider who aligns with your beliefs and desires surrounding labor and birth.
Can lead to other interventions: In some cases, a membrane sweep can lead to other interventions. If the procedure is unsuccessful in stimulating labor, a woman may need to undergo medical induction, which can increase the risk of complications. Additionally, if the procedure is particularly uncomfortable or painful, a woman may be more likely to request pain medication or other interventions to manage the discomfort.
I always encourage using the risk vs benefit rule where membrane sweeps are being discussed. Is your provider encouraging it at 39 weeks to speedy up the process? If your body is not ready for labor, then this may lead to more interventions. However, are you at 41+ weeks and facing a medical induction? Then the risks vs benefits at this stage seem to make more sense and could possibly induce labor without medications.
Either way, membrane sweeps can be a useful tool for stimulating labor and avoiding medical induction. However, they are not without potential drawbacks, such as discomfort, a low success rate, and the potential for other interventions. As with any labor intervention, it is important to carefully weigh the pros and cons and make an informed decision with the guidance of a healthcare provider. And informed decision making is at the forefront of everything I do, because I believe the knowledge you have is power.
Have you had a positive or negative experience with membrane sweeps? Let me hear about it in the comments.