There is no consensus on an optimal strategy for managing the active phase of the second stage of labor. Intensive pushing could not only reduce pushing duration, but also increase abnormal fetal heart rate because of cord compression and reduced placental perfusion and oxygenation resulting from the combination of uterine contractions and maternal expulsive forces. Therefore, it may increase the risk of neonatal acidosis and the need for operative vaginal delivery.
This study aimed to assess the effect of the management encouraging “moderate” pushing vs “intensive” pushing on neonatal morbidity.
This study was a multicenter randomized controlled trial, including nulliparas in the second stage of labor with an epidural and a singleton cephalic fetus at term and with a normal fetal heart rate. Of note, 2 groups were defined: (1) the moderate pushing group, in which women had no time limit on pushing, pushed only twice during each contraction, and observed regular periods without pushing, and (2) the intensive pushing group, in which women pushed 3 times during each contraction and the midwife called an obstetrician after 30 minutes of pushing to discuss operative delivery (standard care). The primary outcome was a composite neonatal morbidity criterion, including umbilical arterial pH of <7.15, base excess of >10 mmol/L, lactate levels of >6 mmol/L, 5-minute Apgar score of <7, and severe neonatal trauma. The secondary outcomes were mode of delivery, episiotomy, obstetrical anal sphincter injuries, postpartum hemorrhage, and maternal satisfaction.
The study included 1710 nulliparous women. The neonatal morbidity rate was 18.9% in the moderate pushing group and 20.6% in the intensive pushing group (P=.38). Pushing duration was longer in the moderate group than in the intensive group (38.8±26.4 vs 28.6±17.0 minutes; P<.001), and its rate of operative delivery was 21.1% in the moderate group compared with 24.8% in the intensive group (P=.08). The episiotomy rate was significantly lower in the moderate pushing group than in the intensive pushing group (13.5% vs 17.8%; P=.02). We found no significant difference for obstetrical anal sphincter injuries, postpartum hemorrhage, or maternal satisfaction.
Moderate pushing has no effect on neonatal morbidity, but it may nonetheless have benefits, as it was associated with a lower episiotomy rate.