How is the third-stage of labor managed?

Updated: Jan 24, 2019
  • Author: Sarah Hagood Milton, MD; Chief Editor: Christine Isaacs, MD  more...
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Answer

Answer

The labor process has now entered the third stage, ie, delivery of the placenta. Three classic signs indicate that the placenta has separated from the uterus: (1) The uterus contracts and rises, (2) the cord suddenly lengthens, and (3) a gush of blood occurs. [2]

Delivery of the placenta usually happens within 5-10 minutes after delivery of the fetus, but it is considered normal up to 30 minutes after delivery of the fetus. Excessive traction should not be applied to the cord to avoid inverting the uterus, which can cause severe postpartum hemorrhage and is an obstetric emergency. The placenta can also be manually separated by passing a hand between the placenta and uterine wall. After the placenta is delivered, inspect it for completeness and for the presence of 1 umbilical vein and 2 umbilical arteries. Oxytocin can be administered throughout the third stage to facilitate placental separation by inducing uterine contractions and to decrease bleeding.

Expectant management of the third stage involves allowing the placenta to deliver spontaneously, whereas active management involves administration of uterotonic agent (usually oxytocin, an ergot alkaloid, or prostaglandins) before the placenta is delivered. This is done with early clamping and cutting of the cord and with controlled traction on the cord while placental separation and delivery are awaited.

A review of 5 randomized trials comparing active versus expectant management of the third stage demonstrated that active management was associated with lowered risks of maternal blood loss, postpartum hemorrhage, and prolongation of the third stage, but it increased maternal nausea, vomiting, and blood pressure (when ergometrine was used). However, given the reduced risk of complications, this review recommends that active management is superior to expectant management and should be the routine management of choice. [19] A multicenter, randomized, controlled trial of the efficacy of misoprostol (prostaglandin E1 analog) compared with oxytocin showed that oxytocin 10 IU IV or given intramuscularly (IM) was preferable to oral misoprostol 600 mcg for active management of the third stage of labor in hospital settings. [64] Therefore, if the risks and benefits are balanced, active management with oxytocin may be considered a part of routine management of the third stage. A study by Adnan et al that included 1075 women to compare intravenous oxytocin and intramuscular oxytocin for the third stage of labor reported that although intravenous oxytocin did not lower the incidence of standard postpartum hemorrhage, it significantly lowered the incidence of severe postpartum hemorrhage as well as lowering the frequency of blood transfusion and admission to a high dependency unit. [76]


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