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Shows and Sweeps

Now you may have heard some pretty weird terminology used about labour and birth, and us midwives are kind of renowned for it. So what does it mean when we discuss a show and a sweep?

What’s a Show?

Let’s start off with a show! This is a mucus plug that sits in the neck of the womb (the cervix) when you’re pregnant. When your body starts to think about going into labour, it often releases this mucus plug. It’s a sticky, bloody, egg whitey looking gunk (YUK!) and some of you may be fortunate enough to pass it when you’re sat on the loo & you don’t even notice! Unfortunately, most of you will probably find however, that over the course of a day or two, every time you go to the loo you will find more of this yucky gunk in your knickers and when you wipe yourself! Lovely! Now, this is not a sign that you’ve gone into labour and you need to call the hospital, it’s simply a sign that your body is thinking about labour and you’re likely to give birth within a week. One of my clients once searched Google for an image of this and she really wished she hadn’t- believe me there’s no need to see that in advance! Just let it happen, let it go away and forget about it (if you can!).

What’s a Sweep?

Now to explain a sweep! A sweep is done in an attempt to stop you having to be induced and it’s usually offered once you’ve reached or gone over your due date. During a sweep, your midwife will examine you to find your cervix (neck of the womb) and if it’s already about 1 centimeter dilated (1 centimeter open or more), they can put a finger in and sweep around between the cervix and the membranes (the bag of waters). This helps to release hormones that can often kickstart labour. Some people will tell you that it’s quite uncomfortable or painful and that’s usually the case if the cervix is really far back and high up. If your cervix has started to move forward and come nearer to the opening of the vagina, you may not find it to be particularly uncomfortable at all. Either way, the key is to RELAX!

What Might Happen After my Sweep?

What should you expect if you do have a sweep? Well, it’s quite common to get some of that bloody show in your knickers (mentioned above) afterwards, or you may find that you get some tightenings in your belly and your lower abdomen (period type pains). You may possibly find that your waters break either during or after the sweep but this is quite unusual and usually means that your body was probably about to do that anyway.

Will a Sweep Start my Labour?

It is likely that a sweep will help you go into labour if your body would have gone into labour soon anyway; alternatively, if your body would not have gone into labour naturally until 42 weeks and you’re offered a sweep at 40 weeks, it is unlikely to do a great deal. Unfortunately, us midwives don’t know when your body would naturally go into labour itself (if we did know, we’d be millionaires!) so because of this unpredictability, don’t expect to suddenly go into labour just because you’ve had a sweep.

If your membrane sweep is successful, you will usually go into labour within 48 hours.

Can I do Anything to Make my Sweep More Likely to Work?

You may find this next piece of advice to be good news or bad news!…I recommend that after a sweep you actually go home and have sex! Whilst you may not feel like doing this (especially if you’re overdue), the mixture of the sweep the consequential hormone release plus the hormones present in sperm can actually help to get things going.

How Many Sweeps will I Need?

Some people will have one sweep and go straight into labour (rare) whilst some will have as many as possible and it’ll never cause labour to begin! Midwives will quite often say it takes three good sweeps to get a baby out! So relax – it’s unlikely that labour is going to start immediately after you’re offered a sweep; it’s possibly worth accepting it because it may take more than one to get things going . Every hospital has their own policy on how many sweeps they will offer and when these will be offered so please ask your own midwife for more details.

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