Understanding Diarrhea after Membrane Sweep: A Sign of Labor?

Pregnancy is a time of joy and anticipation, but it can also bring its share of uncertainties and concerns. Among them are unusual symptoms that may signal labor’s approach. One such sign could be diarrhea following a membrane sweep. But is this a definitive sign of labor? Let’s delve into this topic and provide some clarity.

What is a Pregnancy Membrane Sweep?

A membrane sweep, also known as a cervical sweep, is a procedure usually done near the due date or when a woman is overdue. The healthcare professional (an obstetrician or a midwife) uses a gloved hand to gently separate the amniotic membrane from the cervix.

This procedure might stimulate labor within 48 hours by promoting the release of prostaglandins—hormones that can help dilate and efface the cervix.

Why is a Membrane Sweep Done?

A membrane sweep is a natural method to encourage labor, reducing the need for medical induction or even a cesarean delivery (VBAC). It is usually considered when a pregnant woman is at full term, around 40 weeks, but has not yet started labor.

It may also be done for women with a history of prolonged pregnancies or if there are concerns about the health of the baby or mother.

Can Diarrhea be a Sign of Labor?

Before we make the connection between a membrane sweep and diarrhea, it’s essential to understand that the body often shows signs when it is preparing to go into labor. Diarrhea is one such sign.

As the body prepares for labor, the muscles in the uterus aren’t the only ones that start to contract. The body may also loosen the muscles in the rectum, which could result in diarrhea.

The Body’s Response to Approaching Labor

When labor approaches, your body goes through many changes. Hormonal shifts may lead to looser bowel movements or diarrhea. This is the body’s way of making room for the baby to pass through the pelvis. It’s nature’s method of “lightening the load.”

Here are some early signs of labor to be aware of :

  1. Lightening: This is when the baby “drops,” or moves lower into the pelvis. You might notice that your bump looks lower and breathing might become easier since there’s less pressure on your upper abdomen.
  2. Increased Vaginal Discharge: You may notice an increase in vaginal discharge that can be clear, pink, or slightly bloody. This is often called the “bloody show” and could be a sign that labor is near.
  3. Diarrhea: As discussed in the article, some women may experience diarrhea as a sign of impending labor. This is due to the body releasing prostaglandins that help the cervix dilate but can also affect the bowels.
  4. Nesting: A few days before labor there is an urge to clean and organize your home before the arrival of the baby. While it’s not a definitive sign of labor, many women report experiencing a burst of energy in the days leading up to labor.
  5. Contractions: Regular and consistent contractions that increase in intensity are a significant sign of labor. True labor contractions don’t subside with rest or hydration and are usually felt in the back, radiating to the lower abdomen.
  6. Water Breaking: This refers to the rupture of the amniotic sac. It may feel like a trickle or a gush of water. If you suspect your water has broken, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
  7. Backache: Some women might experience backache or discomfort in the lower back. This could be due to the baby positioning itself for labor.

Remember, every individual’s experience with labor is unique. If you think you’re in labor, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider.

Deciphering False Signs of Labor

However, not all signs guarantee that labor is imminent. Just as with Braxton Hicks contractions, sometimes referred to as “false labor,” diarrhea doesn’t always mean you’re going into labor. Pregnancy affects digestion, and issues like diarrhea can occur throughout pregnancy.

How Do Diarrhea and Membrane Sweep Connect?

Post a membrane sweep, some women might experience diarrhea. This is again due to the release of prostaglandins, which not only help with cervical dilation but can also affect the gastrointestinal system, leading to diarrhea.

Your Body Preparing for Baby’s Arrival

Your body has a natural way of preparing for labor. In the days or even weeks before labor begins, the body undergoes a “nesting” phase. This might manifest in different ways including an urge to clean and organize your home, an increased urge to urinate, or loose stools or diarrhea.

Post Sweep Symptoms and TMI

After a membrane sweep, women might experience other symptoms like mild discomfort, slight bleeding, or cramping. It’s also common to notice an increase in mucus discharge, which might contain some blood—this is known as the “bloody show.”

Diarrhea after a membrane sweep might seem like TMI (too much information), but it’s a common occurrence and nothing to worry about.

Dealing with Diarrhea and Back Pain

Both diarrhea and backache can be uncomfortable symptoms, whether they occur together or separately. If these symptoms are mild, they can be managed at home with hydration, rest, and over-the-counter medication (after consulting your doctor).

Is it Time for the Hospital?

Determining when to head to the hospital can be challenging. However, consistent and increasing contractions, water breaking, severe pain, or heavy bleeding should prompt you to go to the labor and delivery department immediately.

Self-care and Relief

Try to stay as comfortable as possible. Hydrate well, use warm compresses for backache, and maintain good hygiene to avoid any infection if you’re experiencing diarrhea. Remember to breathe deeply and relax as much as possible.

Talking to Your Healthcare Provider

Throughout your pregnancy and especially towards your due date, maintain open communication with your healthcare provider. Share all the symptoms you are experiencing, even if you think they are insignificant.

When to Call Your Doctor?

Contact your doctor immediately if your diarrhea is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other worrying symptoms such as intense abdominal pain, fever, or bloody stools. Also, if you experience contractions that increase in frequency and intensity, noticeable changes in your baby’s movement, or your water breaks, reach out to your healthcare provider right away.

Conclusion: Being Aware, Staying Prepared

Diarrhea after a membrane sweep may or may not be a sign of labor—it varies from person to person. However, understanding what your body is trying to tell you and staying in touch with your healthcare provider can help you navigate this exciting yet challenging journey towards motherhood.


Is diarrhea after a membrane sweep a definite sign of labor?

No, diarrhea after a membrane sweep is not a definite sign of labor. However, it can be a sign that your body is preparing for labor.

What other symptoms might I experience after a membrane sweep?

Some women might experience mild discomfort, slight bleeding, cramping, or an increase in mucus discharge.

What should I do if I experience severe diarrhea after a membrane sweep?

If your diarrhea is severe or persistent, or if it’s accompanied by other concerning symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Can a membrane sweep be done without a doctor?

No, a membrane sweep should only be done by a trained healthcare professional such as a midwife or an obstetrician.

Is a membrane sweep painful?

Some women might find the procedure uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. If you experience pain during the procedure, let your healthcare provider know immediately.


  1. NHS UK. (2020). Inducing labour. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/induction/what-happens/
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2018). Methods for Estimating the Due Date. Available at: https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2017/05/methods-for-estimating-the-due-date
  3. National Childbirth Trust. (2020). Membrane sweep. Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/labour-birth/induction-labour/membrane-sweep
  4. American Pregnancy Association. (2020). Diarrhea During Pregnancy. Available at: https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/diarrhea-during-pregnancy-960/
  5. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Signs of labor: Know what to expect. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/signs-of-labor/art-20046184


This post is written and edited by Sandy who is a clinical pharmacist with over 20 years of experience specializing in pre-natal and post-natal care.