The birth of the placenta or 'afterbirth' is known as the Third Stage or S3.
Midwives who promote normal birth are usually confident to proceed under physiological conditions through the third stage, working in harmony with the mother's natural birthing processes. The elements of physiological S3 include trust between the woman and her known midwife who is professionally responsible for conducting the birth, attention to a safe, non-stimulating birthing environment, cord not clamped prior to cessation of all pulsation, uninterrupted skin to skin contact between baby and mother - all following the spontaneous unmedicated birthing of a healthy baby by a healthy mother. The baby's instinctive movements in seeking the breast enhance the natural production of oxytocin, and the baby's pressure on the mother's abdomen encourages contraction of the mother's womb, ensuring the functioning of living ligatures within the uterine muscle wall at the placental site.
Midwives attending homebirths use oxytocics when clinically indicated.
[The attached tables show the rate of pph for homebirth mothers in Victoria each year 2002-2007. These tables do not indicate severity or degree of morbidity.]
Hospitals in Australia strongly promote active management of S3. This involves injection of a synthetic oxytocic, with or without an ergot alkaloid, soon after the birth of the baby, causing strong contraction of the uterine muscle. When there are signs of placental separation (cessation of pulsation and lengthening of the cord, and sometimes blood loss), the midwife or doctor exerts controlled traction on the cord while guarding suprapubically with the other hand, until the placenta and membranes have been delivered.
Postpartum haemorrhage (pph) is a serious and life threatening condition, which is one of the main causes of preventable maternal death globally. The International Confederation of Midwives statement on pph includes instructions for active management of S3.
[Click on the picture to enlarge - Summary of a paper by Carolyn Hastie and Kathleen Fahy, 'Optimising psychophysiology in third stage of labour: Theory applied to practice'. Women and Birth (2009) 22, 89-96. Australian College of Midwives.]
Efforts by midwives to describe a physiological approach to S3 underline the need for research into the effectiveness of such midwifery care. A recent paper by Hastie and Fahy (2009) [first page scanned above] reviews literature, defines key terms, and presents a theoretical framework of Midwifery Guardianship applied to the third stage. This paper adds to the writings of Michel Odent and others in the past couple of decades, exploring and explaining the neurophysiology of unmedicated, normal birth.
There is no 'one size fits all' in maternity. Each woman and each baby are individual, and decision making is an active process that continues throughout the episode of care. The midwife's toolkit includes the skill and knowledge to promote normal birth, and to work in harmony with the natural processes, when that is likely to lead to the best possible outcomes. The midwife is also able to intervene in a timely and appropriate manner, using current strategies that are supported by contemporary evidence, and critically reflecting on practice in an effort to continually learn and improve maternity care for mothers and babies.