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Enemas during labour

  • Review
  • Intervention




The use of enemas during labour usually reflects the preference of the attending healthcare provider. However, enemas may cause discomfort for women and increase the costs of delivery.


To assess the effects of enemas applied during the first stage of labour on infection rates in mothers and newborns, duration of labour, perineal wound dehiscence in the mother, perineal pain and faecal soiling.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (February 2010), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness (The Cochrane Library 2010, Issue 1), PubMed (1966 to 16 February 2010), clinical trials registers (February 2010) and reference lists of articles.

Selection criteria

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in which an enema was administered during the first stage of labour and which included assessment of possible neonatal or puerperal morbidity or mortality.

Data collection and analysis

Two review authors assessed studies for inclusion independently. 

Main results

Four RCTs (1917 women) met the inclusion criteria; one was judged as having a low risk of bias. We conducted a meta-analysis and found no significant differences for infection rates in puerperal women (two RCTs; 594 women; risk ratio (RR) 0.66, 95% CI 0.42 to 1.04) or newborn children (one RCT; 370 newborns; RR 1.12, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.67) after one month of follow up. No significant differences were found in the incidence of neonatal lower or upper respiratory tract infections. One RCT described labour to be significantly shorter with enema versus no enema (one RCT, 1027 women; 409.4 minutes versus 459.8 minutes; mean difference (MD) -50.40, CI 95% -75.68 to -25.12; P < 0.001). A second RCT found that the mean times to delivery were 504.7 minutes and 392.7 minutes for enema and no enema respectively (152 women; MD 112, 95% CI 48.13 to 175.87). However, no significant differences in the duration of labour were found in the third RCT that scored as having a low risk of bias and was adjusted for parity (median 515 minutes with enemas versus 585 minutes without enemas, P = 0.24). We found no significant differences in neonatal umbilical infection (two RCTs; 592 newborns; RR 3.16, 95% CI 0.50 to 19.82). The one RCT that researched women's views found no significant differences in satisfaction between groups.

Authors' conclusions

The evidence provided by the four included RCTs shows that enemas do not have a significant beneficial effect on infection rates such as perineal wound infection or other neonatal infections and women's satisfaction. These findings speak against the routine use of enemas during labour; therefore, such practice should be discouraged.

Plain language summary

Enemas during labour

Scientific research evidence does not support the routine use of enemas during the first stage of labour.

Giving women enemas during labour has been routine practice in delivery wards of many countries and settings. Occasionally women leak from their back passage whilst giving birth and it was thought an enema in early labour would reduce this soiling and the consequent embarrassment for women. It was also thought that emptying the back passage would give more room for the baby to be born, would reduce the length of labour and would reduce the chance of infection for both the mother and the baby. It was also suggested it would reduce bowel movements after birth which often cause women concern. The disadvantages suggested were that it is a very unpleasant procedure and causes increased pain for women during labour and because enemas could produce a watery faecal soiling whilst giving birth, they could potentially increase the risk of infections. The review identified four studies involving 1917 women. These found no significant differences in any of the outcomes assessed either for the woman or the baby. However, none of the trials assessed pain for the woman during labour and there were insufficient data to assess rare adverse outcomes. Thus the evidence speaks against the routine use of enemas during labour.