What an expression?! "The Sweep". It's not exactly something that most women want to discuss in reference to their cervix and membranes surrounding their babies is it?
But there may come a time during the latter stages of your pregnancy, where your midwife or obstetrician may suggest that you have the sweep, to help encourage the onset of labour. This happened to me, when during a scan, they spotted extra fluid round our baby, or Polydramnios.
What is "the sweep"?
The sweep or "membrane sweep" is carried out by an obstetrician and is usually the first step taken to induce labour. It is seen as the most natural method of induction and involves the obstetrician inserting their finger into the vagina, during an internal examination, in order to feel the opening of the cervix. He or she will then gently but firmly sweep the opening of the cervix with their finger, to try and separate the membranes of the amniotic sac from the opening of the cervix. This is done to release a hormone called prostaglandin and hopefully encourage the onset of labour.
Why the sweep?
Having a sweep may be recommended for many reasons, but essentially it increases the chances of labour starting within 48 hours. Your obstetrician may not wish for you to go overdue with your pregnancy or there may be circumstances in which an induction is deemed necessary and a sweep is the first step taken.
A sweep has a higher chance of working if your cervix is already ripened, which is usually around your due date. This is because your body is already naturally getting ready for labour, so the sweep just acts as a trigger. Therefore not all sweeps are successful and you may be asked to go in again for another one, or your obstetrician may discuss other methods of induction if deemed necessary.
How does it feel?
If you've had an internal examination or a smear test, then you'll be familiar with that sort of discomfort which is felt during. It shouldn't be painful, but it is uncomfortable. You will likely be asked to lie back on the bed, put your feet together and let your knees drop open and outwards, so that your legs are far apart. You may be asked to make a ball with your fists and prop them under your bottom (which helps with the angle).
The obstetrician will then insert their fingers and the whole process shouldn't last more than 30 seconds or so. It is important to try and relax and to concentrate on your breathing during a sweep, as this will help (think of it as practice for labour).
There is no increased risk of infection due to having the sweep (which is why you won't have it done after your waters have broken).
You may find that you feel a bit hormonal or emotional after the sweep. This is due to not only the procedure itself, but the release of hormones and of course the psychological impact. So don't be surprised if you feel a little teary that day.
It is likely that your obstetrician will discuss the sweep with you if you go over your due date. If you are offered a sweep, you can always decline.
Here's a useful NHS resource
on methods of induction.
What were your experiences of the sweep?