Problem: Women increasingly present to hospital in early labour, but admission before active labour contributes to overuse of interventions, poorer clinical and psychological outcomes, and higher healthcare costs.
Background: Innovative models of early labour care have so far not improved birth outcomes.
Aim: To examine if reconfiguring the early labour service in a large Australian maternity service improved (1) the birth outcomes of women who presented in early labour and (2) alleviated bed blockages by decreasing length of stay in the Pregnancy Assessment and Observation Unit.
Methods: Pre-post intervention design, using routinely collected clinical data before and after the implementation of the reconfigured early labour service.
Findings: There were 527 women in pre-intervention cohort and 747 in the post-intervention cohort. The two groups were similar in age, body mass index, marital status, education level and gestation at birth. Post intervention, epidural use did not change significantly, but rates of amniotomy (35.7% vs. 49.9%, p = <0.001), meconium-stained liquor (20.1% vs 26.1%, p = 0.04), and neonatal nursery admission (2.7% vs. 5.8% p = 0.01) increased. The proportion of women staying in the Assessment unit more than two hours decreased, but not significantly.
Conclusion: Changing the location and model of early labour care did not influence epidural use, nor improve women's birth outcomes. For women in early labour, admission to any location within the hospital may be as problematic as admission to birth suite specifically.