WHO revises childbirth guidelines, calls for elimination of 'unrealistic' benchmarks

Women in labour should be given more time to give birth and have fewer medical interventions while participating more in decision-making, the UN health agency said.

WHO revises childbirth guidelines, calls for elimination of 'unrealistic' benchmarks
(Representational image)

New Delhi: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday, revised the childbirth guidelines in a bid to curb the rise of caesarean deliveries.

Caesarean section deliveries have become more popular throughout the world and unfortunately, have begun to be seen as a convenience rather than an emergency surgical procedure.

A caesarean section, also known as c-section, is the delivery of a baby through a surgical incision in the mother's abdomen and uterus. It is often performed when a vaginal birth would put the baby or mother at risk.

Despite the risks, many women are opting for C-section deliveries nowadays, simply because they want to avoid labour pain or coincide with certain events, even though there are no complications with their pregnancies.

The WHO, among 26 recommendations, rejected a traditional benchmark in labour wards worldwide for the dilation of a woman’s cervix at the rate of 1 centimeter per hour, saying it was “unrealistic” and often led to excessive caesarean sections.

Women in labour should be given more time to give birth and have fewer medical interventions while participating more in decision-making, the UN health agency said.

“What has been happening over the last two decades is that we are having more and more interventions being applied unnecessarily to women,” said Dr. Olufemi Oladapo, a medical officer in WHO’s department of reproductive health and research.

“Things like caesarean sections, using a drug called oxytocin to speed up labour is becoming very rampant in several areas of the world,” he told a briefing.

He was referring to the synthesized form of a natural hormone routinely injected intravenously to women to cause contractions, expediting birth to avoid complications.

Since the 1950s, a woman progressing through labour at a rate slower than one centimeter of cervical dilation per hour has been considered "abnormal", said Olufemi Oladapo, a medical officer with the World Health Organization's department of reproductive health.

But research in the past 15 years, including a WHO study of 10,000 women in Nigeria and Uganda, has shown the rate can be slower without endangering the health of a woman or child, Oladapo said.

“It’s not a good benchmark, it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. We feel that everybody is unique, and some women can go slower than that and still have a normal vaginal birth.”

A better threshold is 5 cm of dilation during the first 12 hours for a new mother and 10 hours in subsequent labours, WHO said. A woman’s vital signs and baby’s heartbeat should be monitored closely throughout.

Caesarian rates of more than 10-15 percent do not appear to lead to any significant drop in mortality rates of mother or child, said WHO’s Metin Gülmezoglu.

Among middle-income economies, Latin America, Turkey, China, and Iran have high caesarean rates, but so do some hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa, “and often not for the right reasons”, he said.

Women should be allowed to choose their delivery position,, including squatting or sitting, and be offered pain relief, Oladapo said. “We want a situation where women have an informed choice, and they are involved in decision-making,” he said.

Episiotomy, a cut made to the woman’s outer genital area to widen the birth canal, is not recommended routinely. “If anything it actually does more harm than good,” he said.

(With Agency inputs)

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. You can find out more by clicking this link

Close