Airway suctioning for newborn infants at birth

Review question: Does routine oropharyngeal/nasopharyngeal suctioning of newborn infants' airways compared to no suction have an effect on mortality and morbidity with and without meconium-stained amniotic fluid?

Background: The transition from fetus to newborn involves the clearing of lung fluid and expansion of the lungs with air. Traditionally, oro/nasopharyngeal suctioning at birth has been used routinely to remove fluids in vigorous infants at birth. While airway oro/nasopharyngeal suctioning can be successful in clearing the airway immediately after birth, the procedure can have serious consequences that may outweigh the potential benefits of oro/nasopharyngeal suctioning. This review examined the effect of oro/nasopharyngeal suctioning versus no suctioning.

Study characteristics: Eight randomised controlled trials enrolling 4011 newborn infants met our inclusion criteria.

Results: The currently available evidence neither supports nor refutes suctioning as a beneficial therapy for healthy term infants and further quality studies are needed in term and preterm newborns.

Authors' conclusions: 

The currently available evidence does not support or refute the benefits or harms of routine oro/nasopharyngeal suction over no suction. Further high-quality studies are required in preterm infants or term newborn infants with thick meconium amniotic fluid. Studies should investigate long-term effects such as neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Read the full abstract...

Oro/nasopharyngeal suction is a method used to clear secretions from the oropharynx and nasopharynx through the application of negative pressure via a suction catheter or bulb syringe. Traditionally, airway oro/nasopharyngeal suction at birth has been used routinely to remove fluid rapidly from the oropharynx and nasopharynx in vigorous and non-vigorous infants at birth. Concerns relating to the reported adverse effects of oro/nasopharyngeal suctioning led to a practice review and routine oro/nasopharyngeal suctioning is no longer recommended for vigorous infants. However, it is important to know whether there is any clear benefit or harm for infants whose oro/nasopharyngeal airway is suctioned compared to infants who are not suctioned.


To evaluate the effect of routine oropharyngeal/nasopharyngeal suction compared to no suction on mortality and morbidity in newly born infants.

Search strategy: 

We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review group to search the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2016, Issue 3), MEDLINE via PubMed (1966 to April 18, 2016), Embase (1980 to April 18, 2016), and CINAHL (1982 to April 18, 2016). We also searched clinical trials databases, conference proceedings, and the reference lists of retrieved articles for randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised, quasi-randomised controlled trials and cluster randomised trials that evaluated the effect of routine oropharyngeal/nasopharyngeal suction compared to no suction on mortality and morbidity in newly born infants with and without meconium-stained amniotic fluid.

Data collection and analysis: 

The review authors extracted from the reports of the clinical trials, data regarding clinical outcomes including mortality, need for resuscitation, admission to neonatal intensive care, five minute Apgar score, episodes of apnoea and length of hospital stay.

Main results: 

Eight randomised controlled trials met the inclusion criteria and only included term infants (n = 4011). Five studies included infants with no fetal distress and clear amniotic fluid, one large study included vigorous infants with clear or meconium-stained amniotic fluid, and two large studies included infants with thin or thick meconium-stained amniotic fluid. Overall, there was no statistical difference between oro/nasopharyngeal suction and no oro/nasopharyngeal suction for all reported outcomes: mortality (typical RR 2.29, 95% CI 0.94 to 5.53; typical RD 0.01, 95% CI -0.00 to 0.01; I2 = 0%, studies = 2, participants = 3023), need for resuscitation (typical RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.06; typical RD -0.01, 95% CI -0.03 to 0.00; I2 = 0%, studies = 5, participants = 3791), admission to NICU (typical RR 0.82, 95% CI 0.62 to 1.08; typical RD -0.03, 95% CI -0.08 to 0.01; I2 = 27%, studies = 2, participants = 997) and Apgar scores at five minutes (MD -0.03, 95% CI -0.08 to 0.02; I2 not estimated, studies = 3, participants = 330).