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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Care during the third stage of labour: A postal survey of UK midwives and obstetricians

Diane Farrar13*, Derek Tuffnell2, Rebecca Airey2 and Lelia Duley13

Author Affiliations

1 Bradford Institute for Health Research, Bradford Royal Infirmary, Bradford, BD9 6RJ, UK

2 Women's and Newborn Unit, Bradford Royal Infirmary, Bradford, BD9 6RJ, UK

3 Obstetric Epidemiology Group, Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2010, 10:23  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-23

Published: 21 May 2010



There are two approaches to care during the third stage of labour: Active management includes three components: administration of a prophylactic uterotonic drug, cord clamping and controlled cord traction. For physiological care, intervention occurs only if there is clinical need. Evidence to guide care during the third stage is limited and there is variation in recommendations which may contribute to differences in practice. This paper describes current UK practice during the third stage of labour.


A postal survey of 2230 fellows and members of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and 2400 members of the Royal College of Midwives was undertaken. Respondents were asked about care during the third stage of labour, for vaginal and caesarean births and their views on the need for more evidence to guide care in the third stage. The data were analysed in Excel and presented as descriptive statistics.


1189 (53%) fellows and members of the RCOG and 1702 (71%) midwives responded, of whom 926 (78%) and 1297 (76%) respectively had conducted or supervised births in the last year. 93% (863/926) of obstetricians and 73% (942/1297) of midwives report 'always or usually' using active management. 66% (611/926) of obstetricians and 33% (430/1297) of midwives give the uterotonic drug with delivery of the anterior shoulder; this was intramuscular Syntometrine® for 79% (728/926) and 86% (1118/1293) respectively. For term births, 74% (682/926) of obstetricians and 41% (526/1297) of midwives clamp the cord within 20 seconds, as do 57% (523/926) and 55% (707/1297) for preterm births. Controlled cord traction was used by 94% of both obstetricians and midwives. For caesarean births, intravenous oxytocin was the uterotonic used by 90% (837/926) of obstetricians; 79% (726/926) clamp the cord within 20 seconds for term births as do 63% (576/926) for preterm births.

Physiological management was used 'always or usually' by 2% (21/926) of obstetricians and 9% (121/1297) of midwives. 81% (747/926) of obstetricians and 89% (1151/1297) of midwives thought more evidence from randomised trials was needed; the most popular question was when is best to clamp the cord.


Active management of the third stage of labour is widely used by both obstetricians and midwives in the UK. Syntometrine® is usually used for vaginal births and oxytocin for caesarean births; when this is given and when the cord is clamped varies.