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Stretch and Sweep: Does It Really Work?

A stretch and sweep is something you tend to hear about during pregnancy but it doesn’t really get on your radar until your due date nears.

When the time does come to thinking about whether or not to opt for a stretch and sweep, it can feel like quite a big decision.

That’s where we come in. Here’s all the information you need to help make up your mind…

What is a stretch and sweep?

A stretch and sweep is also known as a membrane sweep or a cervical sweep.

It is an internal examination of the vagina. It involves a healthcare professional (usually a midwife or doctor) using their fingers to separate the membranes around the cervix.

The sweeping motion around the cervix can help to release hormones called prostaglandins. These hormones can help to soften the cervix and trigger contractions, which can lead to labour.

It is considered to be a relatively gentle form of induction that may help kickstart labour. It is generally considered safe for most women and is offered as an alternative to more invasive methods of inducing labour, such as using drugs or breaking the waters.

When is it offered?

A stretch and sweep is usually offered around the time you’re reaching your due date (at around 40 weeks).

It may be offered earlier but it will depend on the circumstances of your pregnancy.

Who can have a stretch and sweep?

The procedure is relatively safe for most pregnant women. Eligibility for a stretch and sweep may depend on several factors, including:

  • Length of pregnancy: The procedure is usually offered to women who are at least 40 weeks pregnant, although it may be considered earlier in some cases.
  • Cervical dilation: The procedure may be more effective if the cervix is already starting to dilate, although this is not always necessary.
  • Baby’s position and health: Your healthcare provider will assess your baby’s position and health to determine if the procedure is safe and appropriate.

You won’t be offered a stretch and sweep if your waters have broken, your baby is not head down or you have a vaginal infection.

What happens during a stretch and sweep?

You will first be asked to empty your bladder. You will then be invited to remove your clothes below the waist and lie down.

A midwife or doctor will place two lubricated, gloved fingers in your vagina. They will then insert one of these fingers into the opening of the cervix.

Using a circular, sweeping motion, they will try to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac (the fluid around baby) from your cervix. The sweeping movement helps to release prostaglandins, which soften the cervix and prepare the body for going into labour.

If it’s not possible to separate the membranes and perform the sweeping motion, the stretching motion may be enough to start the ripening of your cervix. If your cervix then starts to soften and open, your midwife may be able to do a proper sweep at your next appointment.

The whole procedure should only last a couple of minutes.

What are the pros and cons of a stretch and sweep?

The cons of the procedure are that it is a vaginal examination, which can be off-putting for some people. Although the sweeping is quick, it can be bit uncomfortable and there may be some light bleeding afterwards.

The benefits of a stretch and sweep are that its a simple procedure, it doesn’t involve any drugs and is over and done with pretty quickly. Plus it might actually kickstart labour!

Do I have to agree to it?

Absolutely not. Like everything in pregnancy, you have the final say. You can also say no, have a think about it and then ask for a stretch and sweep later if baby still hasn’t come.

Is it painful?

The procedure shouldn’t be painful but it may feel uncomfortable. If it becomes too uncomfortable at any time, ask your midwife or doctor to stop.

Afterwards you might experience some slight bleeding, cramping or mild pain. Paracetamol and/or a warm bath might help.

If you are experiencing a lot of bleeding or pain, contact your GP or midwife straightaway.

How soon will a stretch and sweep work?

After a stretch and sweep, it’s possible to go into labour within a few hours, although it can also take a few days or more for labour to start. The effectiveness of the procedure can vary depending on factors such as how many weeks you are, cervical dilation, and the position of the baby.

It’s worth remembering that a stretch and sweep may not work at all.

What will happen if labour doesn’t start after a stretch and sweep?

Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, you could be offered another stretch and sweep a couple of days later if labour hasn’t started. You may also be offered other induction options.

It’s important to stay in close communication with your midwife after a stretch and sweep to monitor your progress and ensure the safety of you and your baby.

In summary, whilst we know that not everyone loves the idea of a vaginal examination, a stretch and sweep is worth considering if you’re coming to the end of your pregnancy, feeling super uncomfortable and are keen to get things moving along.

Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.

Sources:

Inducing labour
Find out about induction of labour, where the midwife or doctor starts labour artificially using a membrane sweep, pessary or hormone drip.

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