Are Membrane Sweeps Necessary?

My doctor offered to sweep my membranes yesterday. Does it need to be cleaned up there?"

(Yes- real question.)

You may have heard it before- sweeping or stripping of membranes. Let's break down what it really is... including the fact that a broom is not included.

The Goal of Stripping Membranes:

To release hormones that can assist in starting contractions. (Prostaglandin, to be exact.)

How Membranes are Stripped:

Your OB or Midwife will put a finger into the cervix (the mouth of the uterus) and gently separate the amniotic sack (or bag of water) from the wall of the uterus near the cervix.

When is it done?:

Some OBs start stripping membranes around 37 weeks, but it's more likely offered after 39 weeks. 

Photo from

Photo from

Does it work?:

Sometimes. It's not a guarantee that labor will begin, but it can assist in making something happen. It is rare that there is an immediate reaction other than some crampiness. 

Is it painful?

The level of discomfort depends on the person. Some women say it didn't feel like more than the typical vaginal exam (which is often uncomfortable anyway). Others mention a higher amount of pain. The actual procedure is really quite short, but there can be some continued discomfort after.

Should I consider it?

As with any intervention offered in pregnancy and birth, this process comes with risks and benefits. The risks for membrane sweeping tend to be on the lower end, but gathering information is an important part of decision making. If you are approaching an induction, this can be a beneficial first step.