How is it done?
Arguments for and against sweeping the membranes
Possible reactions for mother and baby
Sweeping (or stripping) the membranes (sometimes referred to as a 'strip and stretch') is an old method of induction that was first documented in the year 1810. Sweeping the membranes can be used frequently by caregivers, in an attempt to prevent the pregnancy going overdue, induce labour, or ripen the woman's cervix, to make it more favourable for induction.
Sweeping the membranes involves the caregiver separating the membranes or sac (holding the waters and baby), from their attachment to the lower segment of the uterus. The aim is to trigger the local release of prostaglandin hormones by the cervix. The increased prostaglandin release can sometimes ripen the cervix, (possibly making it more favourable) and hopefully preventing the woman from going more than 41 to 42 weeks overdue (and in some cases inducing the labour). There are some caregivers who will routinely perform this procedure at the weekly pregnancy visits from 37 to 38 weeks, until the labour starts (or an induction is required).
How is it done?
Sweeping the membranes is done by the caregiver performing an internal vaginal examination. The woman is asked to lie down and the caregiver will place 2 fingers into her vagina. One of their fingers is placed inside the opening of the cervix, and up just inside the lower part of the uterus (depending on how closed the cervix is and how easy it is for the caregiver to reach). The cervix usually needs to be soft, and slightly open, enough for the caregiver's finger to be inserted. The caregiver then uses a circular sweeping motion (often 360o), to separate the baby's membranes from the lower segment of the woman's uterus. Care needs to be taken by the caregiver not to break the waters, however this may happen accidentally.