Induction and Birth Experience - Is It Really 'Just' a Sweep?

Consider you are getting onto 40weeks pregnant and let’s face it, you’ve had enough. All you want to do is meet your baby. 

You go to your midwife appointment and the midwife says ‘I’ll book you in for a stretch and sweep tomorrow’. What do you do? Do what she says right?

Well, it’s completely your choice!

Yes you could go down the route of induction but you can always say no, ask for more time to think about it or wait and see if things kick off naturally! It comes as a shock for many mums to learn that they have options in labour.

Many women find themselves in the induction situation, especially first time mums. Remember that you always have a choice when it comes to your body and medical intervention but often we forget this. We assume that when a medical professional tells us that they have booked an appointment for us without the necessary discussion about the benefits and risks to taking that route that they have our best intentions at heart and they must know best. 

What you may not know is that certain interventions are offered solely because it is within that hospital trusts guidelines todo so, rather than looking at your situation and all your individual circumstances. Going past your due date is one common reason women are offered inductions however did you know that an average pregnancy lasts 37 to 42 weeks? Rest assured that if you go past 40 weeks it it entirely normal.

But it’s just a sweep not a ‘proper’ induction?

You may not consider a sweep an induction but that’s what it is - an artificial method of getting labour started. Your midwife will use two fingers to gently massage the cervix in a circular, or sweeping, movement to separate the sac surrounding your baby from the cervix and to stimulate hormones to be released that may start your contractions. 1 in 4 women will go into labour following this intervention within a week. However if baby is nearly ready and the cervix is soft, labour is likely to start soon anyway so it becomes harder to say whether the sweep itself had an effect. If baby is not fully engaged and your cervix hasn’t started softening then it’s going to be harder to encourage baby out. Some women also find that having a sweep can cause vaginal discomfort and bleeding. 

When there are no other medical indications for induction, take time to make the decision of whether this is the right one for you and baby. What is known as the ‘cascade of intervention’ starts off with ‘just’ a sweep and you may be offered further sweeps if things aren’t starting. You are then more likely to need other methods to get labour going, like a pessary, artificial rupture of membranes or synthetic oxytocin. 

How may you experience an induced labour differently to a spontaneous labour?

Trying to get baby out when it is not ready is like picking an apple off of a tree. It’s a lot harder to pull off the apple when it’s not quite ripe. It’s the same for babies. 

By using artificial oxytocin (syntocin) to stimulate contractions, the synthetic hormone acts immediately and at a higher intensity than your natural oxytocin so instead of a building to a crescendo (like a wave), contractions go from 0 to 10 which some women can find harder to mentally prepare for. You are then more likely to ask for pharmaceutical comfort measures i.e. drugs, and more likely to end up having an instrumental delivery (forceps or ventouse suction cap) or even a caesarean.

Feeling pressure from others, feeling out of control of our bodily sensations and environment, and feeling overwhelmed with  fear will increase tension and adrenaline which are not your friends in labour.

Of course if there is a genuine medical need to get baby out then we are lucky we have these tools to hand in case we need to speed up birth. But if not you might consider waiting. Yes, it is uncomfortable to be this pregnant and feeling like you will pop but a spontaneous labour will more likely end up with a better birth experience as the body is labouring without rushing. 

What can you do if you need an induction to create a positive experience?

  • Breathe. It may come as a shock that this is the route that your labour is taking but you know that at each point there are choices and that there are comfort measures. You need oxygen flowing to make the right decisions for you.

  • Keep that natural oxytocin flowing in whatever environment you are in. 

  • Remember your BRAIN - Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Intuition and do Nothing. It can be helpful to use this tool when you are facing medical professionals questions.

Did you have an induction and what was your experience?