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Stretch and sweep

4-minute read

Key facts

  • A ‘stretch and sweep’ is a way of trying to start labour by gently moving the membranes around your baby, from the wall of your uterus.
  • Stretch and sweep can be done during a vaginal examination.
  • It is a safe procedure that can reduce your risk of going overdue or needing to be induced.
  • Your doctor or midwife may offer you a stretch and sweep when you reach your due date.
  • After a stretch and sweep, you may have cramping pains and see mucus coming from your vagina.

What is a stretch and sweep?

A ‘stretch and sweep’ or ‘membrane sweep’ is a way of trying to start labour. It is a simple procedure where the membranes of the sac around your baby are gently pulled away from the wall of your uterus (womb). This releases hormones called prostaglandins, which prepare your cervix for birth.

What are the benefits of a stretch and sweep?

If your pregnancy is low risk, a stretch and sweep is a safe procedure. It makes you more likely to go into labour naturally in the next 2 days.

This reduces the chance of your baby being born overdue. It also reduces the chance of your labour needing to be induced.

Another advantage is that it can be done during a routine appointment and you can go home afterwards.

When is a stretch and sweep offered?

Your midwife or doctor may offer to do a stretch and sweep when you have reached your due date. Some hospitals and doctors offer it from 39 weeks.

If you have a health condition that would make it unsafe for you to go past your due date, you might be offered a stretch and sweep from 38 weeks.

It’s your choice if you have a stretch and sweep, and you don’t have to have one, if you don’t want to.

What can I expect from a stretch and sweep?

The procedure is done by a midwife or doctor as part of an internal vaginal examination. They will check that your baby is in position for birth, lying head down. Then, using gloves and lubricant gel, they will insert their fingers into your vagina and check if your cervix is closed or open.

If your cervix is open, your midwife or doctor will insert their finger into the opening and gently stretch your cervix. They will then sweep their finger around in a circular movement to try to separate the membranes from the wall of your uterus.

If your cervix is closed, your midwife or doctor will massage the outside of your cervix. This may also get labour to start.

If you find the procedure too uncomfortable, you can ask your midwife or doctor to stop at any time.

What can I expect after a stretch and sweep?

Afterwards you might experience a ‘show’ — this is a plug of mucus that comes out of your cervix. You might see some blood mixed in with the mucus. However, you shouldn’t have fresh, red bleeding. If you do, contact your midwife, doctor or hospital immediately.

You might have some cramps or contractions after a stretch and sweep. You can take paracetamol and have a warm bath if you are in pain. If you’re in a lot of pain, call your midwife or doctor.

Pay close attention to your baby’s movements after you’ve had a stretch and sweep.

What if it doesn’t work?

The procedure can be repeated if you don’t go into labour over the next couple of days. Eventually, if you’re still not in labour, your doctor or midwife will talk to you about having an induction.

What are the risks of a stretch and sweep?

If your pregnancy is uncomplicated, there is very little risk involved in having a stretch and sweep. The main issue is that it might not work, and it might not trigger labour.

A stretch and sweep usually won’t cause an infection, even if you have had a positive group B streptococcus (GBS) test result. However, it may not be safe if you have hepatitis C or HIV.

If you have a low-lying placenta, you should not have a stretch and sweep. This could cause serious bleeding. Your doctor or midwife will check where your placenta is before going ahead with the procedure.

Ask your doctor or midwife about the benefits and risks before agreeing to have a stretch and sweep.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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