The progress of labour in the early or latent phase is usually slow and may include painful uterine contractions. Women may feel distressed and lose their confidence during this phase. Support and assessment interventions have been assessed in two previous Cochrane Reviews. This review updates and replaces these two reviews, which have become out of date.
To investigate the effectiveness of assessment and support interventions for women during early labour.In order to measure the effectiveness of the interventions, we compared the duration of labour, the rate of obstetrical interventions, and the rate of other maternal or neonatal outcomes.
We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register, ClinicalTrials.gov, the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (31 October 2016) and reference lists of retrieved studies.
Randomised controlled trials of any assessment or support intervention in the latent phase of labour. We planned to include cluster-randomised trials if they were eligible. We did not include quasi-randomised trials.
Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and risk of bias, extracted data and checked them for accuracy. We resolved any disagreement by discussion or by involving a third assessor. The quality of the evidence was assessed using the GRADE approach.
We included five trials with a total of 10,421 pregnant women in this review update. The trials were conducted in the UK, Canada and America. The trials compared interventions in early labour versus usual care. We examined three comparisons: early labour assessment versus immediate admission to hospital; home visits by midwives versus usual care (telephone triage); and one-to-one structured midwifery care versus usual care. These trials were at moderate- risk of bias mainly because blinding women and staff to these interventions is not generally feasible. For important outcomes we assessed evidence using GRADE; we downgraded evidence for study design limitations, imprecision, and where we carried out meta-analysis, for inconsistency.One trial with 209 women compared early labour assessment with direct admission to hospital. Duration of labour from the point of hospital admission was reduced for women in the assessment group (mean difference (MD) -5.20 hours, 95% confidence interval (CI) -7.06 to -3.34; 209 women, low-quality evidence). There were no clear differences between groups for the number of women undergoing caesarean section or instrumental vaginal birth (risk ratio (RR) 0.72, 95% CI 0.30 to 1.72, very low quality evidence; and, RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.58 to 1.26, very low quality evidence, respectively). Serious maternal morbidity was not reported. Women in the early assessment group were slightly less likely to have epidural anaesthesia (RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.78 to 0.98, low-quality evidence), and considerably less likely to have oxytocin for labour augmentation (RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.37 to 0.86) and this group also had increased satisfaction with their care compared with women in the immediate admission group (MD 16.00, 95% CI 7.53 to 24.47). No babies were born before admission to hospital and only one infant had a low Apgar score at five minutes after the birth (very low quality evidence). Admission to neonatal special care was not reported.Three studies examined home assessment and midwifery support versus telephone triage. One trial reported the duration of labour; home visits did not appear to have any clear impact compared with usual care (MD 0.29 hours, 95% CI -0.14 to 0.72; 1 trial, 3474 women, low-quality evidence). There was no clear difference for the rate of caesarean section (RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.17; 3 trials, 5170 women; I² = 0%; moderate-quality evidence) or the rate of instrumental vaginal birth (average RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.15; 2 trials, 4933 women; I² = 69%; low-quality evidence). One trial reported birth before arrival at hospital or unplanned home birth; there was no clear difference between the groups (RR 1.33, 95% CI 0.30 to 5.95; 1 trial, 3474 women). No clear differences were identified for serious maternal morbidity (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.61 to 1.42; 1 trial, 3474 women; low-quality evidence), or use of epidural (average RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.05; 3 trials, 5168 women; I² = 60%; low-quality evidence). There were no clear differences for neonatal admission to special care (average RR 0.84, 95% CI 0.50 to 1.42; 3 trials, 5170 infants; I² = 71%; very low quality evidence), or for Apgar score less than seven at five minutes after birth (RR 1.19, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.99; 3 trials, 5170 infants; I² = 0%; low-quality evidence).One study, with 5002 women, examined one-to-one structured care in early labour versus usual care. Length of labour was not reported. There were no clear differences between groups for the rate of caesarean section (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.02; 4996 women, high-quality evidence), or for instrumental vaginal birth (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.08; 4996 women, high-quality evidence). No clear differences between groups were reported for serious maternal morbidity (RR 1.13, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.52; 4996 women, moderate-quality evidence). Use of epidural was similar in the two groups (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.01; 4996 women, high-quality evidence). For infant outcomes, there were no clear differences between groups (admission to neonatal intensive care unit: RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.21; 4989 infants, high-quality evidence; Apgar score less than seven at five minutes: RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.64 to 1.79; 4989 infants, moderate-quality evidence).
Assessment and support in early labour does not have a clear impact on rate of caesarean section or instrumental vaginal birth, or whether the baby was born before arrival at hospital or in an unplanned home birth. However, evidence suggested that interventions may have an impact on reducing the use of epidural anaesthesia, labour augmentation and on increasing maternal satisfaction with giving birth. Evidence about the effectiveness of early labour assessment versus immediate admission was very limited and more research is needed in this area.