Management of prolonged first stage of labour in a low-resource setting: lessons learnt from rural Malawi

Caesarean sections without medical indication cause substantial maternal and perinatal ill-health, particularly in low-income countries where surgery is often less safe. In presence of adequate labour monitoring and by appropriate use of evidence-based interventions for prolonged first stage of labour, unnecessary caesarean sections can be avoided. We aim to describe the incidence of prolonged first stage of labour and the use of amniotomy and augmentation with oxytocin in a low-resource setting in Malawi.

Retrospective analysis of medical records and partographs of all women who gave birth in 2015 and 2016 in a rural mission hospital in Malawi. Primary outcomes were incidence of prolonged first stage of labour based on partograph tracings, caesarean section indications and utilization of amniotomy and oxytocin augmentation.

Out of 3246 women who gave birth in the study period, 178 (5.2%) crossed the action line in the first stage of labour, of whom 21 (11.8%) received oxytocin to augment labour. In total, 645 women gave birth by caesarean section, of whom 241 (37.4%) with an indication ‘prolonged first stage of labour’. Only 113 (46.9%) of them crossed the action line and in 71/241 (29.5%) membranes were still intact at the start of caesarean section. Excluding the 60 women with prior caesarean sections, 14/181 (7.7%) received oxytocin prior to caesarean section for augmentation of labour.

The diagnosis prolonged first stage of labour was often made without being evident from labour tracings and two basic obstetric interventions to prevent caesarean section, amniotomy and labour augmentation with oxytocin, were underused.