Active versus expectant management of third stage of labour: the Hinchingbrooke randomised controlled trial

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Background This study tested the hypotheses that active management of the third stage of labour lowers the rates of primary postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) and longer-term consequences compared with expectant management, in a setting where both managements are commonly practised, and that this effect is not mediated by maternal posture.

Background 1512 women judged to be at low risk of PPH (blood loss >500 mL) were randomly assigned active management of the third stage (prophylactic oxytocic within 2 min of baby's birth, immediate cutting and clamping of the cord, delivery of placenta by controlled cord traction or maternal effort) or expectant management (no prophylactic oxytocic, no cord clamping until pulsation ceased, delivery of placenta by maternal effort).Women were also randomly assigned upright or supine posture. Analyses were by intention to treat.

Findings The rate of PPH was significantly lower with active than with expectant management (51 [6.8%] of 748 vs 126 [16.5%] of 764; relative risk 2.42 [95% CI 1.78-3.30], p<0.0001). Posture had no effect on this risk (upright 92 [12%] of 755 vs supine 85 [11%] of 757). Objective measures of blood loss confirmed the results. There was more vomiting in the active group but no other important differences were detected.

Interpretation Active management of the third stage reduces the risk of PPH, whatever the woman's posture, even when midwives are familiar with both approaches.We recommend that clinical guidelines in hospital settings advocate active management (with oxytocin alone). However, decisions about individual care should take into account the weights placed by pregnant women and their caregivers on blood loss compared with an intervention-free third stage.

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