Purpose of review: Despite evidence that active management of the third stage of labour reduces the incidence of postpartum haemorrhage, expectant management is still widely practised. Factors accounting for this situation include the desire for a more natural experience of childbirth, the philosophy that active management is unnecessary in low-risk women, and avoidance of the adverse effects of conventional uterotonic agents. This review will evaluate the various strategies currently used for the prevention of primary postpartum haemorrhage. Recent findings: Since publication of the first systematic review comparing active with expectant management in 1988, active management of the third stage using oxytocics has become increasingly adopted. Recent surveys, however, show that there are still wide variations in practice around the world. Recent interest has focused on the use of misoprostol for the prevention of postpartum haemorrhage. Carbetocin, an oxytocin receptor agonist, shows promise but has not been evaluated for use after vaginal births. Summary: Active management of the third stage of labour is superior to expectant management in terms of blood loss, postpartum haemorrhage and other serious complications, but is associated with unpleasant side effects and hypertension when ergometrine is included. Intramuscular oxytocin results in fewer side effects. Oral and rectal misoprostol has been extensively assessed and found to be less effective than conventional oxytocics with more side effects. Until alternative regimes of misoprostol are studied in large controlled trials, misoprostol is not recommended for routine use in the third stage of labour. Of the remaining uterotonic agents evaluated, intramuscular carbetocin appears the most promising.
- Active management
- Expectant management