Membrane Sweep

A membrane sweep is a common procedure pregnancy care providers perform after 39 weeks of pregnancy to induce labor naturally. It involves them inserting gloved fingers into your cervix to loosen the amniotic sac from your uterus. It’s an effective way to progress labor when you’re near or past your due date.


Membrane sweep, with provider's finger separating amniotic membrane from the uterus
Lifting the amniotic sac during a membrane sweep can induce labor.

What is a membrane sweep?

A membrane sweep is when your healthcare provider sweeps a gloved finger across the membranes that connect the amniotic sac (a fluid-filled sac that contains the fetus) to the wall of your uterus. This separation of the amniotic membranes from your uterus can speed up labor in pregnant people.

Membrane sweeps help your body release chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help soften, thin and dilate (open) your cervix to prepare you for labor.

It’s common and safe, but there’s no guarantee a membrane sweep will jumpstart labor or contractions. It’s an optional procedure your healthcare provider may suggest as you near or pass your due date.

You can only have a membrane sweep if your cervix has begun dilating. Membrane sweeps are often suggested as the first option to get labor started naturally before having to induce labor.

Other names for a membrane sweep are:

  • Membrane stripping or stripping of the membranes.
  • Cervical sweep.

Why would I have my membranes stripped?

Your healthcare provider may suggest stripping your membranes to start labor if your cervix is partially dilated but contractions haven’t begun or have started and then stopped. Membrane stripping happens around 39 or 40 weeks in pregnancy. It’s a way to induce labor naturally and without medication.

Healthcare providers will not perform membrane sweeps on people who show signs of needing a C-section.


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What week in pregnancy do membrane sweeps happen?

Providers don’t usually perform membrane sweeps until 39 weeks or later in pregnancy. You can have one up until about 42 weeks of pregnancy. You must be slightly dilated, which allows your healthcare provider to reach up into your cervix to perform the sweep. If your pregnancy is high risk or you have underlying medical conditions, your healthcare provider may feel a membrane sweep is unsafe.

How common are membrane sweeps?

Membrane sweeps are very common. The exact number of membrane sweeps isn’t known, but many providers offer it routinely to anyone who is healthy, eager to go into labor and at least 39 weeks pregnant.

Procedure Details

What happens during a membrane sweep?

A membrane sweep is a natural way to induce labor when you’re at least 39 or 40 weeks pregnant. Your pregnancy care provider usually sweeps your membranes during a prenatal appointment. Generally, the steps in a membrane sweep are:

  • Your provider will have you undress from your waist down. You’ll lay back on an exam table like you do for a pelvic exam. You’ll drape a sheet over your legs and put your feet in stirrups.
  • Your provider will check your cervix to see if it’s dilated and soft. This is sometimes called having a “favorable” cervix. If your cervix is hard and closed (unfavorable cervix), a membrane sweep usually isn’t beneficial or even possible.
  • Your provider will insert one or two gloved fingers into your cervix and sweep around the top of the opening to your cervix in a circular motion. This helps separate the amniotic sac from the walls of your uterus without rupturing the sac (breaking your water). This sweeping motion triggers your body to release prostaglandins.

There’s a chance the membranes will rupture (your water breaks) during this procedure and that’s usually OK. That’s why healthcare providers only perform membrane sweeps in full-term, healthy pregnancies with a negative Group B strep test.

How dilated should you be for a membrane sweep?

You typically need to be at least 1 to 2 centimeters dilated for a healthcare provider to perform a membrane sweep.

How long does stripping my membranes take?

It takes only a few minutes for your provider to strip your membranes.

How painful is a membrane sweep?

A membrane sweep can be uncomfortable or slightly painful. Some people describe it as a rough pelvic exam. You should expect some cramping and discomfort during and just after the membrane sweep.


What happens after a membrane sweep?

It’s normal to experience some discomfort after a membrane sweep. When your provider finishes, you’ll get dressed and go home.

Some of the most common side effects after a membrane sweep are:

  • Cramping.
  • Contractions that are irregular or hard to track.
  • Light vaginal bleeding or spotting.

If the bleeding becomes heavy or you have severe pain, contact your healthcare provider right away.

Does a membrane sweep induce labor?

There’s no guarantee that labor will begin after a membrane sweep. Studies have shown that membrane sweeps can help kickstart labor and may help avoid a medical induction (using medication to start labor). Membrane sweeps may be more effective if:

  • You have a “favorable cervix.” This means your cervix has softened, thinned and dilated.
  • You’re at least 40 weeks pregnant (on or just past your due date).
  • You’re already in the early stages of labor.


Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of getting your membranes swept?

The benefits of a membrane sweep are that it’s more likely to cause you to go into labor naturally and avoid a medical or planned induction. A medical or planned induction involves getting medication to start labor.

Additionally, you’re probably starting to feel a little uncomfortable after 39 or 40 weeks of pregnancy. Most people are willing to take the chance that a membrane sweep gets them closer to seeing their baby.

How effective is membrane stripping?

There isn’t one reliable study that shows how effective membrane stripping is. But it’s a relatively low-risk procedure that may be worth trying if you’re close to or past your due date.

Can a failed sweep still bring on labor?

Possibly. Even if your provider believes the sweep was unsuccessful, it could still result in labor starting sooner than it would have without the membrane sweep. Sometimes, the mild irritation that occurs to your cervix during a sweep is enough to cause your body to release prostaglandins and go into labor within a few days.

Are there any negatives to getting a membrane sweep?

Membrane sweeping is generally safe, but there are some risks. Other than the discomfort you’ll feel during the procedure, there’s a chance you’ll bleed afterward. It can also cause cramping that may be confused for contractions.

There’s also a small chance your water breaks. This is generally OK from a medical perspective because your pregnancy is full-term. But it can still be a surprise and something you may not be prepared for.

It’s always best to talk to your healthcare provider and weigh the risks and benefits of a membrane sweep.

Can I decline a membrane sweep?

Yes, you can decline a membrane sweep. It’s your choice to get one.

Recovery and Outlook

How long after a membrane sweep will I go into labor?

Every person and every pregnancy is different, so it’s hard to say how long it’ll take for your labor to start (or if it will). Most studies show that around 50% of people will go into labor within seven days of a sweep.

What are the signs of labor after a membrane sweep?

Some of the most common signs of labor after a membrane sweep are:

Do you get contractions after a membrane sweep?

Not everyone gets contractions right away after a membrane sweep. Even if they do start soon after, the contractions likely will not be intense. Contractions almost always start out mild and irregular before becoming painful and regular.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you experience severe pain or heavy bleeding after a membrane sweep. You can expect some cramping and bleeding, but anything severe may indicate a problem.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Membrane sweeps (membrane stripping) are a safe and effective way to start labor if you’re at least 39 weeks pregnant. While they can be slightly uncomfortable, they can also be a great first attempt at getting labor going naturally. Talk to your healthcare provider about membrane stripping if you’re getting close to your due date. They can discuss the risks and benefits and what you can expect afterward.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/26/2024.

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