Firstly, before we go over the pros and cons of a stretch and sweep (also known as a membrane sweep) – do you even know what it is?! It is a procedure, usually offered to pregnant women around 41 weeks, but can be as early as 38 weeks. (Dates can vary by area, and by midwife). Your midwife or doctor will insert two lubricated, gloved fingers into your vagina. They then use a circular movement to try to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac from your cervix, in an attempt to kick start labour.
Some midwives are great at explaining the benefits and risks of having a stretch and sweep. Some midwives will not explain, and presume you will have one or try to convince you to have one. Either way, it is always best to do your own research and decide for yourself what course of action is best for you.
Is a stretch and sweep a form of induction?
Technically it is not a form of medical intervention. You do not need to take medication or drugs. However, anything that has the intention of starting labour before your body and baby are ready is an induction of labour.
Do they actually work?!
There is no reliable evidence to prove whether a stretch and sweep works or not. This is because for women who have had one, there is no way of knowing what would happen if they had not had one. A woman could have one and go instantly into labour. But if she was 41 weeks, maybe she would have gone into labour at that moment anyway.
What are the cons of a stretch and sweep?
Before you have a stretch and sweep your midwife will first try to assess if you are ‘favourable’ to go into labour soon. They do this by feeling your cervix to see if it has moved and/or gone soft. If this has happened, you will be deemed ‘favourable’.
So before agreeing to a stretch and sweep, you must first be prepared to hear that you might not be favourable for going into labour soon. This can be demoralising, especially if you are fed up of pregnancy, or under pressure to have the baby soon.
If this happens to you, please remember there is no timeline on pregnancy and birth. Your midwife will only be able to tell you how your cervix is at that moment in time. Just because you are not ‘favourable’ then, that could all change in half an hour.
A big downside of a stretch and sweep, for many women, is the actual process of having one. It can make you feel pretty uncomfortable having a stranger put their fingers inside your vagina. It can also be physically uncomfortable. Some argue the more vigorous the motion, the more likely it is to work.
Next, is you could go through the procedure, only for it to not work. Which is really disheartening. You might start to doubt your body’s own abilities, which could make hypnobirthing less effective.
A stretch and sweep could also send you into a false or slow labour. You might have some hormonal changes, some cramping or spotting, but labour does not start for a few days. This can lead to tension, restlessness and tiredness – not a great way to feel when you go into actual labour. Going into a slow labour might also mean you are seeking out pain, as reassurance that things are happening. Seeking out pain will obviously make things more painful, compared to if you were using hypnobirthing techniques to distract you from pain and keep you comfortable.
The final downside of a stretch and sweep is it only has a limited amount of effectiveness. The British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology found:
overall the intervention is associated with a 24% increase in chance of delivering within 48 hours, a 46% increase in chance of delivering within a week and a 74% reduction in likelihood of going 2 weeks over dates.
However, as mentioned earlier, there is no definite way of knowing whether a sweep has worked on an individual basis, or of knowing the outcome if someone declined a stretch and sweep. Stretch and sweeps are much more effective if you are going into labour soon, so why not just wait?
What are the benefits of stretch and sweep?
The obvious benefit of a stretch and sweep is that it could work! If you are under pressure from your medical team to have your baby soon, or you’ve simply had enough of pregnancy this could be a way to speed things up. There are countless women who have had a stretch and sweep and firmly believe it brought on labour.
The other benefit is that although it is an intervention, it is not classed as a medical intervention. You could have a stretch and sweep, or several, and then go home with no further assessments needed. If you are facing a medical induction, this could be a good way to avoid them.
My hypnobirthing course covers loads of useful, unbiased information like this. It’s not just breathing techniques and relaxations! I include this information so that you have the knowledge and power to make your pregnancy and birth the best for you. If you want to find out more about how I can help you, you can book a group course here, or contact me for private class availability here.