Approximately 31 percent of cesarean deliveries in the United States and Canada are performed for dystocia. The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness of early labor assessment to reduce cesarean birth rates for low-risk nulliparous women.
Two hundred and nine low-risk nulliparous women were randomly allocated to either the early labor assessment group or the direct admission to hospital group. Women in the early labor assessment group were evaluated and, if found to be in false or latent labor, were encouraged to go home or walk before admission to the labor unit. Those in the direct admission group were admitted to the labor unit without an assessment. Data were collected and analyzed about method of delivery, duration of labor, intrapartum interventions, and neonatal well-being. Women completed an evaluation of their experience in the early postpartum period.
Significant decreases occurred in duration of labor, use of epidural analgesia for pain, and use of oxytocin to augment labor in the early labor assessment group. These women evaluated their labor and birth experience more positively than women in the direct admission group. No significant differences were found in the frequency of cesarean section or instrumental vaginal delivery for the two groups.
Early labor assessment has the potential to reduce the number of women receiving oxytocin for augmentation, the rate of epidural analgesia for pain relief, and the duration of the active and second stages of labor, and to improve women's evaluations of their labor and birth experiences. (BIRTH 25:1, March 1998)