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Retained placenta after vaginal birth: How long should you wait to manually remove the placenta?

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For a woman with a neuraxial anesthetic, 20 minutes post–birth of the newborn may be the best time to diagnose retained placenta and consider manual removal



You have just safely delivered the baby who is quietly resting on her mother’s chest. You begin active management of the third stage of labor, administering oxytocin, performing uterine massage and applying controlled tension on the umbilical cord. There is no evidence of excess postpartum bleeding.

How long will you wait to deliver the placenta?

Active management of the third stage of labor

Most authorities recommend active management of the third stage of labor because active management reduces the risk of maternal hemorrhage >1,000 mL (relative risk [RR], 0.34), postpartum hemoglobin levels < 9 g/dL (RR, 0.50), and maternal blood transfusion (RR, 0.35) compared with expectant management.1

The most important component of active management of the third stage of labor is the administration of a uterotonic after delivery of the newborn. In the United States, oxytocin is the uterotonic most often utilized for the active management of the third stage of labor. Authors of a recent randomized clinical trial reported that intravenous oxytocin is superior to intramuscular oxytocin for reducing postpartum blood loss (385 vs 445 mL), the frequency of blood loss greater than 1,000 mL (4.6% vs 8.1%), and the rate of maternal blood transfusion (1.5% vs 4.4%).2

In addition to administering oxytocin, the active management of the third stage often involves maneuvers to accelerate placental delivery, including the Crede and Brandt-Andrews maneuvers and controlled tension on the umbilical cord. The Crede maneuver, described in 1853, involves placing a hand on the abdominal wall near the uterine fundus and squeezing the uterine fundus between the thumb and fingers.3,4

The Brandt-Andrews maneuver, described in 1933, involves placing a clamp on the umbilical cord close to the vulva.5 The clamp is used to apply judicious tension on the cord with one hand, while the other hand is placed on the mother’s abdomen with the palm and fingers overlying the junction between the uterine corpus and the lower segment. With judicious tension on the cord, the abdominal hand pushes the uterus upward toward the umbilicus. Placental separation is indicated when lengthening of the umbilical cord occurs. The Brandt-Andrews maneuver may be associated with fewer cases of uterine inversion than the Crede maneuver.5-7

Of note, umbilical cord traction has not been demonstrated to reduce the need for blood transfusion or the incidence of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) >1,000 mL, and it is commonly utilized by obstetricians and midwives.8,9 Hence, in the third stage, the delivering clinician should routinely administer a uterotonic, but use of judicious tension on the cord can be deferred if the woman prefers a noninterventional approach to delivery.

Following a vaginal birth, when should the diagnosis of retained placenta be made?

The historic definition of retained placenta is nonexpulsion of the placenta 30 minutes after delivery of the newborn. However, many observational studies report that, when active management of the third stage is utilized, 90%, 95%, and 99% of placentas deliver by 9 minutes, 13 minutes, and 28 minutes, respectively.10 In addition, many observational studies report that the incidence of PPH increases significantly with longer intervals between birth of the newborn and delivery of the placenta. In one study the rate of blood loss >500 mL was 8.5% when the placenta delivered between 5 and 9 minutes and 35.1% when the placenta delivered ≥30 minutes following birth of the baby.10 In another observational study, compared with women delivering the placenta < 10 minutes after birth, women delivering the placenta ≥30 minutes after birth had a 3-fold increased risk of PPH.11 Similar findings have been reported in other studies.12-14

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