Shall I have a Membrane Sweep?
A membrane sweep is a common form of intervention that is routinely offered in the UK. The NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines state that every woman should be offered a membrane sweep at 41 weeks. So it is likely that this will be offered to you around then or an appointment booked in at 40 weeks for your membrane sweep at around 41 weeks.
As far as hypnobirthing is concerned this is an intervention, because the philosophy of hypnobirthing is to do nothing as nature will take its course. But there are some things to consider before making your decision. Understanding the benefits and the risks fully can help you make a choice as to whether you have one at 41 weeks or earlier, to delay it until you are nearer term at 42 weeks or to decline it. Importantly you do have a choice.
Research shows that women often go into labour within 2-3 days of having a membrane sweep, whether they were about to go into labour anyway is a possibility as women who are given a membrane sweep are expected to birth imminently. The intention of a membrane sweep is to stimulate the release of prostaglandins and oxytocin, both of which can trigger uterine contractions and labour. Prostaglandins can be found in semen and oxytocin is a hormone associate with sex as well as labour, which is why sex is recommended to get things moving!
What happens during a membrane sweep?
During a membrane sweep, your midwife will insert a finger into your vagina and feel for your cervix. She’ll then sweep the cervix to separate the membranes from your cervix. It can be very uncomfortable and you may bleed afterwards.
What are the benefits of a membrane sweep?
If you are nearing 42 weeks and under pressure for an induction, or just want to get things moving, a sweep can be a good way of getting things started. It can often prevent the need for other more aggressive pharmacological forms of induction, that are associated with something known as a cascade of intervention.
What are the risks of a membrane sweep?
There is the slight risk that the midwife could accidentally rupture you amniotic sac during a membrane sweep, which then means your labour may be actively managed and if you don’t go into labour after 48 – 72 hours (depending on your hospital policy) you may need to be induced.
There is also the sense of being disheartened if it doesn’t work. There is also some anecdotal evidence that women who have membrane sweeps have slightly more painful labours.
The aim of a membrane sweep is to trigger the release of prostaglandins and oxytocin, which stimulate contractions. Fortunately there are other ways of doing this that are more fun and much more comfortable!
- Sex (semen contains prostaglandins and sex triggers the release of oxytocin)
- Eating spicy food (releases endorphins and oxytocin)
- Light touch massage
- Stand in a warm shower and teak your nipples until milk drips
- Have a go at reflexology or acupuncture
- Get your head in the right place, let go of the worry of labour starting in time and it probably will. Our Mp3s can help with that.
- Take yourself out of your normal environment and go for a long walk
- Clary sage and lavender baths (consult with a local aromatherapist or research the use of clary sage if this is an option for you)
A membrane sweep may be better closer to 42 weeks than 41 – most women are nearing labour at this point and it is more likely to be effective the closer to going into labour you are.
If you are under pressure for an induction it can be a way of compromising and getting things moving without the pressure of further interventions. Unlike pharmacological methods of intervention, it is unlikely to trigger the cascade of intervention that you so often hear of associated with an oxytocin drip.
However, if you are true to the hypnobirthing philosophy, remember that this is essentially a compromise and if you deeply trust your baby and your body to birth when they are ready then you can decline and choose to do nothing. In this case you will be offered regular monitoring if you go over 42 weeks to check the function of your placenta and levels of amniotic fluid.
Whatever you choose, it’s your choice – make it an informed one.