Third stage of labor: evidence-based practice for prevention of adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes

Alyssa R. Hersh, Guillermo Carroli, G. Justus Hofmeyr, Bharti Garg, Metin Gülmezoglu, Pisake Lumbiganon, Bremen De Mucio, Sarah Saleem, Mario Philip R. Festin, Suneeta Mittal, Jorge Andres Rubio-Romero, Tsungai Chipato, Catalina Valencia, Jorge E. Tolosa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The third stage of labor is defined as the time period between delivery of the fetus through delivery of the placenta. During a normal third stage, uterine contractions lead to separation and expulsion of the placenta from the uterus. Postpartum hemorrhage is a relatively common complication of the third stage of labor. Strategies have been studied to mitigate the risk of postpartum hemorrhage, leading to the widespread implementation of active management of the third stage of labor. Initially, active management of the third stage of labor consisted of a bundle of interventions including administration of a uterotonic agent, early cord clamping, controlled cord traction, and external uterine massage. However, the effectiveness of these interventions as a bundle has been questioned, leading to abandonment of some components in recent years. Despite this, upon review of selected international guidelines, we found that the term “active management of the third stage of labor” was still used, but recommendations for and against individual interventions were variable and not necessarily supported by current evidence. In this review, we: (1) examine the physiology of the third stage of labor, (2) present evidence related to interventions that prevent postpartum hemorrhage and promote maternal and neonatal health, (3) review current global guidelines and recommendations for practice, and (4) propose future areas of investigation. The interventions in this review include pharmacologic agents to prevent postpartum hemorrhage, cord clamping, cord milking, cord traction, cord drainage, early skin-to-skin contact, and nipple stimulation. Treatment of complications of the third stage of labor is outside of the scope of this review. We conclude that current evidence supports the use of effective pharmacologic postpartum hemorrhage prophylaxis, delayed cord clamping, early skin-to-skin contact, and controlled cord traction at delivery when feasible. The most effective uterotonic regimens for preventing postpartum hemorrhage after vaginal delivery include oxytocin plus ergometrine; oxytocin plus misoprostol; or carbetocin. After cesarean delivery, carbetocin or oxytocin as a bolus are the most effective regimens. There is inconsistent evidence regarding the use of tranexamic acid in addition to a uterotonic compared with a uterotonic alone for postpartum hemorrhage prevention after all deliveries. Because of differences in patient comorbidities, costs, and availability of resources and staff, decisions to use specific prevention strategies are dependent on patient- and system-level factors. We recommend that the term “active management of the third stage of labor” as a combined intervention no longer be used. Instead, we recommend that “third stage care” be adopted, which promotes the implementation of evidence-based interventions that incorporate practices that are safe and beneficial for both the woman and neonate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S1046-S1060.e1
JournalAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • carbetocin
  • delayed cord clamping
  • ergometrine
  • external uterine massage
  • hemorrhage
  • labor
  • misoprostol
  • obstetrical complications
  • obstetrics
  • oxytocin
  • postpartum hemorrhage
  • third stage care
  • third stage of labor
  • tranexamic acid
  • umbilical cord drainage
  • umbilical cord milking


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