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PREAMBLE: Evidence about the effects of care practices is not a sufficient guide to the most appropriate care. Those who provide care, who receive care, who advocate care, or who pay for care must choose on the basis of many factors: personal experience, personal preference, personal values, availability of resources and facilities, and a myriad of other considerations, among which knowledge of the effects of care is certainly important. This knowledge is essential for choices to be properly informed.

The most reliable evidence about the effects of care is provided by randomized controlled trials. Unfortunately, this evidence is not readily accessible. It is scattered through a large number of journals throughout the world, and is hidden among a mass of weak, inadequate, and sometimes frankly misleading studies. Those who wish to use all the valid evidence must rely on properly prepared, up-to-date, systematic reviews. The Cochrane Collaboration has taken on the task of preparing, maintaining, and disseminating reviews of randomized trials of health care, published electronically as the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The reviews are provided by a number of Collaborative Review Groups, and the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Database is the first specialty database to appear. It is regularly updated to incorporate data that have become available since the previous issue.

The recommendations in the tables that follow are reprinted from the second edition of A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth. They are based on evidence from the two-volume work, Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth, updated by the current (at the time of going to press) disk issue of The Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Database.