I had a membrane sweep with my son and like the other ladies it didn't work the first time. When I went back for my next appointment they did it again, and that one did work. I went into labor an hour after leaving OB's office. (can't really say it worked, or maybe it was just my time :)) The first one was uncomfortable, and I did have a few contractions, but nothing major.
I had it done at 39 weeks 4 days with both of my daughters. I had each of my daughters (two different pregnancies) within 24 hours of having it done. It will ONLY work if your body is ready, just as with any other means of putting yourself into labor. If your body isn't ready it just won't work. But it also does NOT hurt to try and this is better than going straight to induction with Pitocin.
I would request that your doctor start doing them at 38 weeks and then weekly until you do go into labor. Sometimes it does take a few sweeps for enough hormones to be released to put you into labor.
They do it during a cervical exam- they just gently sweep their finger to remove the bag of waters from your cervix. It can cause crazy cramping and discomfort.
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