Metabolic acidosis at birth and suboptimal care – illustration of the gap between knowledge and clinical practice


M Jonsson, Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Uppsala University, SE-751 85 Uppsala, Sweden.


Objective  To evaluate the occurrence and nature of suboptimal intrapartum care in cases with metabolic acidosis in the newborn, and to estimate the degree to which this may be prevented.

Design  Case–control study. Clinical audit.

Setting  Delivery units at two university hospitals in Sweden.

Population  Out of 28 486 deliveries, 161 neonates ≥34 weeks of gestational age were born with metabolic acidosis.

Methods  Cases (n = 161): umbilical artery pH < 7.05 and base deficit ≥12 mmol/l. Controls (n = 322): pH ≥ 7.05 and Apgar score ≥7 at 5 minutes. Obstetric characteristics and oxytocin administration were recorded. The last 2 hours of electronic fetal monitoring before delivery were evaluated blinded to outcome. Intrapartum management was analysed for suboptimal care by using predefined criteria.

Main outcome measure  Suboptimal intrapartum care.

Results  Case and control comparisons displayed an occurrence of suboptimal care in 49.1% versus 13.0% (P < 0.001), oxytocin misuse in 46.6% versus 13.0% (P < 0.001), a failure to respond to a pathological cardiotocographic pattern in 19.9% versus 1.2% (P < 0.001) and suboptimal care related to vacuum deliveries in 3.1% versus 0.3% (P < 0.01) respectively.

Conclusion  Metabolic acidosis at birth is often associated with suboptimal intrapartum care. The high rate of suboptimal care with regard to oxytocin use and fetal surveillance illustrate a gap between guidelines and clinical practice. Metabolic acidosis and related neonatal morbidity could potentially be prevented in 40–50% of cases. The adherence to guidelines must be checked.