Immediate delivery of the preterm fetus with suspected compromise may decrease the risk of damage due to intrauterine hypoxia. However, it may also increase the risks of prematurity.
To assess the effects of immediate versus deferred delivery of preterm babies with suspected fetal compromise on neonatal, maternal and long-term outcomes.
We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (30 April 2016) and reference lists of retrieved studies.
Randomised trials comparing a policy of immediate delivery with deferred delivery or expectant management in preterm fetuses with suspected in utero compromise. Quasi-randomised trials and trials employing a cluster-randomised design were eligible for inclusion but none were identified.
Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and risk of bias, extracted data and checked them for accuracy.
We included one trial of 548 women (588 babies) in the review. Women with pregnancies between 24 and 36 weeks' gestation took part. The study took place in 13 European countries, between 1993 and 2001. The difference in the median randomisation to delivery interval between immediate delivery and deferred delivery was four days (median: 0.9 (inter-quartile range (IQR) 0.4 to 1.3) days for immediate delivery, median: 4.9 (IQR 2.0 to 10.8) days in the delay group).There was no clear difference in the primary outcomes of extended perinatal mortality (risk ratio (RR) 1.17, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.67 to 2.04, one trial, 587 babies, moderate-quality evidence) or the composite outcome of death or disability at or after two years of age (RR 1.22, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.75, one trial, 573 babies, moderate-quality evidence) with immediate delivery compared to deferred delivery. The results for these outcomes are consistent with both appreciable benefit and harm. More babies in the immediate delivery group were ventilated for more than 24 hours (RR 1.54, 95% CI 1.20 to 1.97, one trial, 576 babies). There were no differences between the immediate delivery and deferred delivery groups in any other infant mortality outcome (stillbirth, neonatal mortality, postneonatal mortality > 28 days to discharge), individual neonatal morbidity or markers of neonatal morbidity (cord pH less than 7.00, Apgar less than seven at five minutes, convulsions, interventricular haemorrhage or germinal matrix haemorrhage, necrotising enterocolitis and periventricular leucomalacia or ventriculomegaly).Some important outcomes were not reported, in particular infant admission to neonatal intensive care or special care facility, and respiratory distress syndrome. We were not able to calculate composite rates of serious neonatal morbidity, even though individual morbidities were reported, due to the risk of double counting infants with more than one morbidity.More children in the immediate delivery group had cerebral palsy at or after two years of age (RR 5.88, 95% CI 1.33 to 26.02, one trial, 507 children). There were, however, no differences in neurodevelopment impairment at or after two years (RR 1.72, 95% CI 0.86 to 3.41, one trial, 507 children), death at or after two years of age (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.66 to 1.63, one trial, 573 children), or death or disability in childhood (six to 13 years of age) (RR 0.82, 95% CI 0.48 to 1.40, one trial, 302 children). More women in the immediate delivery group had caesarean delivery than in the deferred delivery group (RR 1.15, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.24, one trial, 547 women, high-quality evidence). Data were not available on any other maternal outcomes.There were several methodological weaknesses in the included study, and the level of evidence for the primary outcomes was graded high for caesarean section and moderate for extended perinatal mortality and death or disability at or after two years. The evidence was downgraded because the CIs for these outcomes were wide, and were consistent with both appreciable benefit and harm. Bias may have been introduced by several factors: blinding was not possible due to the nature of the intervention, data for childhood follow-up were incomplete due to attrition, and no adjustment was made in the analysis for the non-independence of babies from multiple pregnancies (39 out of 548 pregnancies). This study only included cases of suspected fetal compromise where there was uncertainty whether immediate delivery was indicated, thus results must be interpreted with caution.
Currently there is insufficient evidence on the benefits and harms of immediate delivery compared with deferred delivery in cases of suspected fetal compromise at preterm gestations to make firm recommendations. There is a lack of trials addressing this question, and limitations of the one included trial means that caution must be used in interpreting and generalising the findings. More research is needed to guide clinical practice.Although the included trial is relatively large, it has insufficient power to detect differences in neonatal mortality. It did not report any maternal outcomes other than mode of delivery, or evaluate maternal satisfaction or economic outcomes. The applicability of the findings is limited by several factors: Women with a wide range of obstetric complications and gestational ages were included, and subgroup analysis is currently limited. Advances in Doppler assessment techniques may diagnose severe compromise more accurately and help make decisions about the timing of delivery. The potential benefits of deferring delivery for longer or shorter periods cannot be presumed.Where there is uncertainty whether or not to deliver a preterm fetus with suspected fetal compromise, there seems to be no benefit to immediate delivery. Deferring delivery until test results worsen or increasing gestation favours delivery may improve the outcomes for mother and baby.There is a need for high-quality randomised controlled trials comparing immediate and deferred delivery where there is suspected fetal compromise at preterm gestations to guide clinical practice. Future trials should report all important outcomes, and should be adequately powered to detect differences in maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality.