Early amniotomy and early oxytocin for delay in first stage spontaneous labour compared with routine care

Caesarean section rates have increased substantially since the early 1970s; many women having their first babies are older and this may contribute to ineffective or difficult labour, most often because of inadequate uterine action (dystocia). The Active Management of Labour is a clinical protocol that includes early intervention with amniotomy and oxytocin to increase the frequency and intensity of uterine contractions (augmentation) when the progress of labour is delayed. Continued ineffective labour (‘cervical arrest’) can result in the decision to undertake a caesarean section. Early intervention also has risks that include uterine hyperstimulation and fetal heart rate abnormalities.

This review includes 14 trials, randomizing a total of 8033 women, and showed that a policy of early routine augmentation for mild delays in labour progress resulted in a modest reduction of the caesarean section rate compared with expectant management. The reduction in caesarean sections was most evident in the 11 trials looking at prevention of abnormal progression, rather than therapy (three trials). In these women, the time from admission to giving birth was also reduced (mean difference 1.3 hours).

The trials did not provide sufficient evidence on indicators of maternal or neonatal health, including women’s satisfaction and views on the experience. Documentation of other aspects of care, such as continuous professional support, mobility and positions during labour, was limited as was the degree of contrast between groups. Women in the control group also received oxytocin but often later than in the intervention group. The severity of delay which was sufficient to justify interventions remains to be defined. 

Authors' conclusions: 

In prevention trials, early intervention with amniotomy and oxytocin appears to be associated with a modest reduction in the rate of caesarean section over standard care.

Read the full abstract...

Caesarean section rates are over 20% in many developed countries. The main diagnosis contributing to the high rate in nulliparae is dystocia or prolonged labour. The present review assesses the effects of a policy of early amniotomy with early oxytocin administration for the prevention of, or the therapy for, delay in labour progress.


To estimate the effects of early augmentation with amniotomy and oxytocin for prevention of, or therapy for, delay in labour progress on the caesarean birth rate and on indicators of maternal and neonatal morbidity.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (31 May 2013), MEDLINE (1966 to 4 July 2013), Embase (1980 to 4 July 2013), CINAHL (1982 to 4 July 2013), MIDIRS (1985 to 4 July 2013) and contacted authors for data from unpublished trials.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials that compared oxytocin and amniotomy with expectant management.

Data collection and analysis: 

Three review authors extracted data independently. We stratified the analyses into 'Prevention Trials' and 'Therapy Trials' according to the status of the woman at the time of randomization. Participants in the 'Prevention Trials' were unselected women, without slow progress in labour, who were randomized to a policy of early augmentation or to routine care. In 'Treatment Trials' women were eligible if they had an established delay in labour progress.

Main results: 

For the 2013 update, we identified and excluded one new clinical trial. This updated review includes 14 trials, randomizing a total of 8033 women. The unstratified analysis found early intervention with amniotomy and oxytocin to be associated with a modest reduction in the risk of caesarean section; however, the confidence interval (CI) included the null effect (risk ratio (RR) 0.89; 95% CI 0.79 to 1.01; 14 trials; 8033 women). In prevention trials, early augmentation was associated with a modest reduction in the number of caesarean births (RR 0.87; 95% CI 0.77 to 0.99; 11 trials; 7753). A policy of early amniotomy and early oxytocin was associated with a shortened duration of labour (average mean difference (MD) - 1.28 hours; 95% CI -1.97 to -0.59; eight trials; 4816 women). Sensitivity analyses excluding four trials with a full package of active management did not substantially affect the point estimate for risk of caesarean section (RR 0.87; 95% CI 0.73 to 1.05; 10 trials; 5165 women). We found no other significant effects for the other indicators of maternal or neonatal morbidity.