Going overdue is never easy but going so overdue that you have to be induced can be traumatic for women. There is no doubt that nature is the best midwife when it comes to labour, and induction comes with its own risks. Not only is the labour associated with medical induction more painful but the risk of having a caesarean is also greater. This is especially true for women having the first baby.

Women wanting to avoid medical induction now have an option called ‘sweeping the membranes’. This technique is not new. It involves the midwife or doctor conducting a vaginal examination and using a finger that they run around the inside of the woman’s cervix, gently separating the membranes from the lower part of the uterus. This causes a release of an important labour hormone called prostaglandin.

A large trial has now shown that when women who have gone over their due date by one week have their membranes swept, they are almost twice as likely to have their baby before 42 weeks compared to women who did not have their membranes swept. While this technique doesn’t work for everyone it is worth considering if you really want to avoid an induction. It appears to be quite safe, though women who have their membranes swept should expect a little bit of harmless bleeding to follow.

Published 29/8/12

Dr Hannah Dahlen is the Associate Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney. She has been a midwife for more than 20 years. Hannah is also an executive member of the Australian College of Midwives, NSW Branch. She has researched women’s birth experiences at home and in hospital and published extensively in this area. Hannah’s website is