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Anna McFarlin, MD, FAAP, FACEP, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics; Director, Combined Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics Residency, LSU Health New Orleans
Aaron N. Leetch, MD, FACEP, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics; Director, Combined Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics Residency, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson
Few situations unsettle an emergency physician and emergency department (ED) like an unexpected birth in the ED. In fact, women have been delivering babies for millennia without exquisite birthing suites or the assistance of modern medicine. However, managing unexpected births in a busy ED can be stressful at best, and at worst, can result in a devastating outcome. Although ED deliveries are not common, and complications are even more rare, emergency providers should be able to deliver timely, competent resuscitation for both mother and baby if needed.
Women in labor may present to the ED for various reasons. They may not have received prenatal care, may be new to the area and/or uninformed about which hospitals provide maternity services, may be in denial about or concealing a pregnancy, or may not have had time to go to another hospital because of precipitous labor.1,2 Most of these patients will be stable enough to be evaluated briefly by the emergency physician and then transferred to a labor and delivery unit, either within the same hospital or elsewhere. However, some women will be beyond the point of transfer and will deliver precipitously in the ED. Thankfully, precipitous delivery is a rare event that typically proceeds without significant complications.3,4
Precipitous delivery results from rapid labor lasting less than three hours. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 3% of deliveries in the United States were precipitous in nature.5 By definition, births in the ED are precipitous.6 These births are triggered commonly by pregnancy complications, such as chorioamnionitis, hypertension, or illicit drug use.1 ED births also can follow significant trauma or maternal cardiac arrest via perimortem cesarean delivery. Once delivery occurs, the emergency physician is responsible for the resuscitation of two patients, further complicating matters. Women who are in precipitous labor and present to the ED often have received little or no prenatal care. They are more likely to deliver preterm or high-risk neonates.7,8
A lack of familiarity with normal deliveries, along with the understanding that serious and rarely fatal complications may occur, can create feelings of anxiety for emergency physicians when caring for women in active labor.8 This article will provide a review of vaginal delivery and neonatal resuscitation in the ED. Also, it will briefly address feared complications, such as shoulder dystocia, breech delivery, cardiac arrest, and extreme prematurity.
Specialty hospitals (i.e., stroke centers) often deliver more efficient care. The same is true for obstetrics and neonatology. Infants born at hospitals with lower-level neonatal intensive care units have poorer outcomes than those born at higher-volume facilities.9 Even providers who typically attend births but at hospitals with low birth volume (rural hospitals) demonstrate discomfort with complex obstetric resuscitation skills.10 Just as in these rural hospitals, the low birth volume common for most EDs creates challenges for the healthcare team because there are fewer opportunities to develop skills in clinical situations.10 Unfamiliarity and resultant failure to act in accordance with protocols can cause problems because delayed or insufficient resuscitation is associated with poor outcomes for neonates. Even though deliveries in the ED are rare, emergency physicians need to know how to care for such patients.11
Most newborns are healthy and transition from the intrauterine to the extrauterine environment without assistance. About 10% of newborns will need more resuscitation than simple warmth, drying, and stimulation immediately after delivery; less than 1% will require extensive resuscitation that involves medical interventions such as chest compressions.7 The precise incidence of ED deliveries is unknown.12 In a seven-year review at one major metropolitan hospital, 80 infants were delivered in the prehospital and ED settings, with 25% of these infants requiring some degree of resuscitation.7
When a woman presents to the ED in labor, obtain a brief obstetric history. (See Table 1.) If the estimated date of confinement or due date is unknown, calculate the due date by using the first day of the last menstrual period, subtracting three months, and adding one week. Handheld or electronic wheels aid with this calculation.12 Subsequently, perform a focused physical exam to determine the position and presentation of the fetus. Unless there is a history of painless bleeding or excessive blood is evident indicating possible placenta previa, a manual vaginal examination with a sterile-gloved hand is indicated. Assess for effacement, ranging from 0% through 100%, by palpating the thinning cervix. Determine the cervical dilation by estimating the average diameter of the cervical os. Cervical dilation is determined in centimeters, with full dilation indicated at 10 cm. Once the cervix has been examined, determine the station, which is the position of the fetus’s head with respect to the ischial spine.12,13
If a woman is found to be completely dilated and/or effaced, allow her to deliver before transferring her to another facility. Delivering in a moving ambulance is not ideal if complications arise. A patient who is crowning should deliver in the ED whether or not obstetric services are available.6 In the absence of crowning, other signs of imminent delivery include:4,12
The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires a medical screening exam and stabilization of any identified medical emergencies prior to transfer, specifically including an evaluation of the pregnant woman and fetus. Contractions alone do not constitute instability. A woman who is in labor is considered unstable if there is not enough time to transfer her safely to another hospital before delivery occurs, or if that transfer may threaten the health or safety of the mother or fetus.14 Antenatal transfer generally is associated with improved neonatal outcomes compared with neonatal transfer.14 Therefore, after a screening exam, if the physician determines that delivery is not imminent, transfer to the nearest hospital with obstetric services should be facilitated as quickly as possible.
Few laboratory tests are useful; because of the precipitous nature of ED deliveries, most results will not be available prior to delivery. Determining the patient’s hemoglobin level and Rh blood group status is required. Bedside ultrasonography may be useful. Attempt to determine the fetal position, number of fetuses, estimated age of the fetus, cardiac activity, and/or fetal movement with bedside ultrasound prior to delivery.
Once an imminent delivery is anticipated, request obstetric and neonatal consultations without delay and prepare for emergent delivery. The uncomplicated delivery will be described first, followed by a brief discussion of possible complications.
Rapid expulsion of the fetal head in a precipitous delivery contributes to a high incidence of perineal tears.8 Once the fetal head is crowning and the introitus is opened more than 5 cm, place a gloved hand at the perineum draped with a towel to avoid allowing the fetus’s face to contact the mother’s anus. Place gentle upward pressure on the fetal chin with the same hand, and mild counter pressure over the fetal occiput with the other hand, eventually extending the occiput over the symphysis pubis. This maneuver allows the physician to maintain control, allowing for slow delivery of the baby’s head and minimizing maternal trauma.1,4,13
Prior to 2005, routine suctioning of the mouth and nose was recommended after delivery of the head and prior to delivery of the shoulders. Although this practice still is common, it is no longer recommended. Routine oronasopharyngeal suctioning can be associated with bradycardia, apnea, and delays in achieving normal oxygenation with no benefit.15 Furthermore, suctioning infants born through meconium-stained amniotic fluid does not prevent or alter the course of meconium aspiration syndrome in vigorous infants.15,16
Once the head is delivered, use a finger to check the neck for the umbilical cord. If the cord is present around the neck, attempt to slip it over the infant’s head or loosen it. Typically, the umbilical cord may be passed over the head easily, but sometimes it is too tight. In this case, clamp the cord on two sides and cut between the clamps to deliver the infant promptly.1,4,6,12,13
If the infant’s head is out but the body does not follow spontaneously after a few pushes, give gentle downward traction with both hands until the anterior shoulder passes under the symphysis pubis, followed by upward traction for the posterior shoulder.6 Usually, the rest of the body follows the shoulders. If that does not occur, then applying moderate traction on the infant’s head and pressure on the uterine fundus allows for the delivery to be completed. If traction is necessary, it should be applied in the long axis of the infant’s neck to avoid brachial plexus injury.4,13 If the child begins to breathe and move and appears to be in good health, the most practical placement of the neonate is on the mother’s abdomen. The mother’s skin is a natural source of heat. The providers then can dry and assess the neonate. It is not necessary to cut the umbilical cord immediately, and the mother can have a chance to meet her baby.4 Double-clamp and cut the cord approximately 7-10 cm from the baby.12
When the placenta separates from the uterus, bleeding will occur, which may happen up to five to 15 minutes after delivery of the fetus. Once the blood comes out of the vagina, vigorously massage the uterus to achieve uterus contraction, since uterine atony is the most common cause of postpartum hemorrhage.12 The umbilical cord may lengthen or become slack. Continuous gentle traction should be applied to the cord with a hemostat.4 If the placenta does not descend after a few minutes, ask the mother to push. Avoid yanking or placing undue pressure on the umbilical cord; the placenta should never be forced to separate. Forceful separation of the placenta could cause uterine inversion.13 Examine the placenta carefully to assess for missing pieces. Retained placental fragments can cause heavy bleeding. Save the placenta in a container and send it with the mother to the facility that will be receiving the patient.1,12
In the event of uterine inversion, anticipate potential complications, including the inability to reduce the uterus as well as significant hemorrhage and shock. Prepare for possible blood transfusion. If you have not already done so, call for help. While the uterus is inverted, do not remove the placenta. Attempt manual reduction by placing a hand in the vagina and applying pressure to the fundus toward the umbilicus. Prompt reduction is important because the lower uterine segment and cervix can contract, forming a constriction ring and making further attempts at reduction futile. If manual reduction is not successful, pharmacologic agents or surgery may be necessary.
Precipitous delivery places the mother at risk for postpartum hemorrhage.1,2 Continue uterine massage at frequent intervals until bleeding slows and the uterus firms. Start oxytocin once the placenta is delivered. Oxytocin is among the most used agents for myometrium contraction and hemostasis. The dose is 20 units per liter (to a maximum of 40 units) over four to 10 hours until the bleeding is well controlled.4,13,17 Waiting to determine the amount of bleeding before administration is not recommended because empiric treatment decreases the risk of postpartum hemorrhage.3 Careful observation for subsequent bleeding should occur through one hour after delivery of the placenta. The mother should be examined for vaginal or perineal lacerations, which also may cause bleeding.13
If the mother and baby are doing well and do not require resuscitation, the attending emergency physician may perform vaginal and perineal repairs if he or she is comfortable doing so. It is also generally acceptable to allow the obstetrician to finish this portion, especially in the setting of complex perineal tears.12 If repair is deferred, pack the vaginal canal to achieve hemostasis.8 Similarly, treatment of retained placental tissue can be deferred to the obstetrician for further management.
For a video example of hand maneuvers with standard vaginal delivery, view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBy5v0LUxIg.
Postpartum hemorrhage occurs in an estimated 4-6% of all pregnancies and peaks at two to three hours after childbirth.17,18 The most common cause of postpartum hemorrhage is uterine atony, or the inability of the uterus to contract effectively. Other common causes are retained placental tissue, vaginal or cervical trauma, and coagulopathy.17 If hemorrhage persists, consider antifibrinolytic drugs such as tranexamic acid (TXA). TXA improves survival, but a delay in treatment reduces the medication’s benefit. The benefit appears to be decreased by 10% for every 15 minutes of treatment delay, with no benefit after three hours of delay.18 Other second-line agents are listed in Table 2.
Shoulder dystocia (SD) is the impaction of the fetus’s anterior shoulder behind the mother’s pubic symphysis. It is an obstetric emergency that may occur during a precipitous delivery.19 The reported incidence varies widely, ranging from 0.2% to 3% of deliveries, with 5-10% of those cases resulting in neonatal injury.13,20-22 Although SD occurs infrequently, it is an important complication to recognize because it requires taking quick and definitive action. In addition, unfamiliarity with SD management may result in maternal complications, fetal disability, or death.19
After SD, the most commonly reported injury is brachial plexus injury, which occurs most often to cervical nerve roots 5 and 6 (known as Erb’s palsy). Orthopedic injuries, such as clavicle and humerus fractures, are other possible complications. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and death are the most serious complications of SD in neonates.22 Anoxia can occur because of umbilical cord compression, carotid artery compression, or premature placenta separation.6,19,20 Maternal complications include an increased risk of postpartum hemorrhage, fourth-degree lacerations to the perineum, vaginal or cervical lacerations, uterine rupture, and symphyseal separation.6,20,21
The diagnosis of SD is made when the clinician is unable to deliver the fetus’s anterior shoulder by applying gentle downward traction on the fetal head. Some define SD as a delay of more than 60 seconds between delivery of the head and the shoulders.6 SD also may be identified after delivery of the head when the fetal chin retracts onto the maternal perineum, known as “turtle sign.”19 Once dystocia is diagnosed, instruct the patient to stop pushing because impaction of the anterior shoulder may be exacerbated by continued Valsalva. Although episiotomy often is discussed in the literature, a review of recent studies found no benefit to episiotomy in the management of SD.22 There is no single best maneuver that should be applied first or specific sequence of maneuvers that should be used. To relieve the dystocia, attempt the following maneuvers.
For a video example of management of shoulder dystocia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIyHZyij0Bg
Breech presentation is another important possible complication of delivery. It occurs in 3-4% of pregnancies and is associated with a morbidity rate three to four times higher than with cephalad presentations.13 Breech presentation is associated with an increased incidence of fetal distress, umbilical cord prolapse, and head entrapment, which can lead to asphyxiation and death. With a normal cephalic presentation, the fetal head maximally dilates the birth canal, which allows the rest of the fetus’s body to descend the canal unobstructed. In a breech presentation, the fetal head emerges last and can become entrapped by incomplete cervical dilation.6
If the fetus presents in breech, clinicians may feel a strong urge to do something to help the fetus deliver. However, the best approach is to minimize touching the fetus, simply providing support for the neonate below the level of the perineum and letting the delivery happen spontaneously.4,13 The clinician should never pull on the fetus because excessive traction can extend the fetal head. This leads to entrapment, which greatly increases the risk of asphyxiation.6
In the event of an incomplete breech delivery, physician assistance is required to deliver the infant. If the legs are flexed (with the infant in a pike position presenting buttocks first), place a hand behind the fetal thigh and press gently in a lateral direction, allowing delivery of each leg.6 Continue to support the fetus by the bony pelvis, grasping with both hands and using a towel to avoid slippage. Place the fingers over the anterior superior iliac crest, with the thumbs resting over the sacrum. Placing the fingers carefully over the bony pelvis will prevent injury to the fetus’s abdominal soft tissue. The next step is to deliver the arms. Rotate the fetus 90 degrees in either direction to make one shoulder anterior. If spontaneous delivery of the arms does not occur, sweep the arm across the chest with your fingers. To deliver the other arm, rotate the fetus 180 degrees in the other direction and use a similar approach. Once both arms are delivered, rotate the infant so that the sacrum is anterior again.6,13
To deliver the head, an assistant should apply strong suprapubic pressure to flex the head. If the fetal head does not appear spontaneously, place your arm under the fetus for support and reach into the birth canal. Apply pressure to the fetal maxilla with your index and middle finger on either side of the nose. Keep the body of the fetus parallel to the floor. Excessive upward angulation will cause hyperextension of the fetal neck and can cause injury to the cervical spinal cord.6 With your other hand, hook your index and middle finger on each side of the neck, applying gentle downward traction to the shoulders until the suboccipital region appears under the pubic symphysis. Elevate the fetal body upward toward the mother’s abdomen to complete delivery of the fetal head.13
For a video example of management of breech delivery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9pU_6LDVUM
Cardiac arrest has become a more pressing obstetrical concern given the rise in maternal mortality over the past two decades. In part, this is because women are having children at older ages, and there are more women with cardiac risk factors and other comorbidities.23,24 The most common causes of maternal mortality in the United States were hemorrhage, heart failure, amniotic fluid embolism, and sepsis.23 Table 3 lists common causes of maternal cardiac arrest. Since maternal cardiac arrest can be a trigger for perimortem cesarean delivery and, thus, emergency delivery in the ED, it will be reviewed here briefly, followed by a discussion of perimortem cesarean delivery.
In the event of maternal cardiac arrest, start high-quality cardiopulmonary resuscitation, including chest compressions, airway control, defibrillation if needed, and administration of epinephrine.25 Compressions should be performed over the mid-lower sternum, similar to the placement for the nonpregnant state.26,27 Call for help from obstetrics, neonatology, anesthesia, and potentially general surgery, depending on the resources available at your institution.
Determine the estimated gestation. At approximately 20 weeks, the uterus is palpable at the level of the umbilicus, rising approximately 1-2 cm (or one finger-breadth) every additional week of gestation. During chest compressions in the nonpregnant patient, approximately 30% of the normal cardiac output is achieved. In a late-term pregnant woman, this is even lower because of aortocaval compression by the gravid uterus that hampers venous return. Consequently, cardiac output generated by chest compression is no greater than 10%.28-30 Displacement of the gravid uterus is required to optimize effective resuscitation when gestation is greater than 20 weeks.26 Although previous recommendations included lateral maternal tilt as an option for uterine displacement, chest compressions are less effective in this position, hindering resuscitative efforts. Therefore, place the patient in a supine position with manual displacement of the gravid uterus leftward and upward.23,24,27,31-34 In the pre-arrest and post-arrest phases when chest compressions are not required, placing the pregnant woman in a full left lateral decubitus position is recommended to help prevent hemodynamic deterioration.34
Ensure vascular access above the level of the diaphragm to avoid trapping inferior to the gravid uterus.26 If fetal monitors are in place, they should be removed promptly to minimize the time spent on nonresuscitative procedures.26 Early defibrillation should be provided when indicated; modifications in shock energy are not recommended.23,27,31 Resuscitative medications do not require dose alterations; no resuscitative medication should be withheld because of concerns for fetal teratogenicity or outcome.23,26,27,31 One possible exception is sodium bicarbonate. Although it is not routinely recommended in the American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), some providers give sodium bicarbonate to treat suspected acidosis. Administration of sodium bicarbonate can cause pooling of carbon dioxide in the fetus and worsening of fetal acidemia. Therefore, it is not recommended.26,35 Anticipate a difficult airway due to airway edema, mucosal friability, and increased secretions.24,26 Similarly, expect reduced oxygen reserve, more difficult ventilation, and increased risk of aspiration.29,35
When usual resuscitative measures do not result in return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC), then a perimortem cesarean delivery (PMCD) should be considered if the pregnancy is at least 20-24 weeks of gestation.34 PMCD is a rare but potentially life-saving procedure that is within the emergency medicine scope of practice.24 PMCD is the only method that completely relieves aortocaval compression by decompressing the uterus with delivery of the fetus. The procedure improves venous return and cardiac output, improves pulmonary mechanics, redirects circulating blood from the uterine to the systemic circulation, decreases oxygen demand, and allows for internal cardiac massage.24,29,31-34,36 Additionally, if hemorrhage is a causative factor for arrest, direct aortic pressure or cross-clamping can be applied to control bleeding.33 Therefore, PMCD provides the best possibility for successful maternal resuscitation as well as fetal salvage.25 In fact, multiple case series describe the effect of PMCD as sudden and dramatic improvement in maternal hemodynamics immediately after fetal delivery.27 It is assumed that hypoxia and subsequent irreversible brain damage begin at four to six minutes of cessation of cerebral blood flow. For this reason, it is recommended that PMCD be initiated after just four minutes of high-quality CPR, with the goal of delivering the neonate by five minutes.24-26,28-32,37,38 PMCD should not be delayed while awaiting ultrasonography to document the gestational age or detect the fetal heartbeat.26,36 Similarly, time should not be wasted transporting the patient to the operating room.26,33
Reported success rates of PMCD vary widely and likely are influenced greatly by significant reporting bias. Maternal survival ranges from 17% to 72% and fetal survival ranges from 11% to 80%, with approximately 78-100% of surviving neonates neurologically intact.24,27,29,30,32,33
While the 4- to 5-minute rule aspires to delivery within five minutes, this seldom is achieved in practice.26,29,37 Realistically, delivery should be as soon as possible, recognizing that the longer the delay from cardiac arrest to PMCD, the worse the maternal and fetal prognosis.32,37 The neurologically intact survival rate for pregnant women and infants is a function of time, with a roughly linear decrease in survival as time passes.29 That said, delivery of healthy infants has occurred 30 minutes after an arrest, so PMCD should be attempted even if significant time has elapsed.26,38
The most experienced physician, preferably an obstetrician, should perform the PMCD. However, because of time constraints, the emergency physician likely will have the responsibility for the procedure.39 PMCD requires little more than a scalpel and shears, if available. Maternal CPR and administration of resuscitative medication should continue during the procedure.26,39 Make a midline vertical incision, extending from approximately 4 cm inferior to the xiphoid process down to the pubis, through all layers of the abdominal wall. Take care to avoid the bladder. While avoiding injury to the fetus, make a small vertical incision through the uterus until amniotic fluid is obtained or until the uterine cavity is clearly entered. Insert your fingers into the cavity and lift the uterine wall away from the fetus. Extend the incision with scissors, cutting through the placenta if it is situated anteriorly, and deliver the infant.13,24,32,39,40 Unlike with most surgical procedures, bleeding most likely will not be an issue because of the lack of perfusion, unless ROSC is achieved.3
Following delivery of the infant, remove the placenta from the uterus. Closure of the open abdomen may be delayed until ROSC occurs and obstetric or general surgery assistance arrives.26,40 In the meantime, pack the abdomen and apply manual pressure if needed.26,41 If ROSC occurs, give broad-spectrum antibiotics to decrease any risk of postpartum infection.39 Additionally, administration of sedation and analgesia, as well as the management of postpartum hemorrhage with uterotonic agents (e.g., oxytocin) or tranexamic acid, may be required.24,32,33,41 Oxytocin should be used with caution because it can cause hypotension and reprecipitate arrest. If ROSC does not occur immediately, continue resuscitation according to Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) protocol.
For a video example of perimortem cesarean delivery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGc9t0DRMeI
PMCD is performed in an emergency in the best interests of the patients; therefore, consent is not required.32 There have been no cases of physicians charged with criminal or civil malfeasance for performing a PMCD, even by non-obstetricians. However, there have been cases in which lawsuits were brought against physicians for not performing PMCDs when indicated.32,36
Once the infant has been delivered, evaluation of the neonate can begin. This is achieved best in the ED with a separate team from the one attending to the mother. This team should be composed of either the consultants who answered the call for help made when delivery was anticipated (neonatologists, anesthesiologists) or a separate emergency physician and additional nurses and respiratory therapists, if available.
If the infant is of full- or near-term gestation and is crying or breathing with good tone, he or she should remain with the mother if she also is stable.4,42 Dry the infant and place on the mother’s abdomen, cover the baby with dry linens, and apply a hat, if available. Skin-to-skin contact will keep the infant warm and allow maternal-infant bonding.1,3,43 In this case, delaying cord clamping until the cord stops pulsing (> 30-120 seconds) is an option. Clamping the umbilical cord before the infant’s first breaths is associated with reduced cardiac filling and may induce bradycardia.44 Additionally, delayed cord clamping is associated with less intraventricular hemorrhage, higher blood pressure, less need for transfusion, decreased incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis, and improved iron stores in the first six months of life.3,9,42,43,45 The only negative consequence appears to be a slightly increased incidence of hyperbilirubinemia requiring phototherapy.42,45 If the infant requires advanced resuscitation, delayed cord clamping is not recommended.42,43
At birth, approximately 10% of infants need some assistance to begin breathing. Of those who require assistance, most need only basic maneuvers to help them start breathing.43 If the infant is not vigorous, move him or her to the radiant warmer and initiate resuscitation. Dry and stimulate the infant by rubbing with dry towels and subsequently removing wet linens. Warm the infant and maintain a normal temperature. Newborn hypothermia will increase oxygen consumption and metabolic demands, impeding effective resuscitation.1,43 The temperature of newly born infants on admission is a strong predictive factor of mortality at all gestational ages. Hypothermia is associated with serious morbidities, such as increased risk of intraventricular hemorrhage, respiratory problems, hypoglycemia, and late-onset sepsis.42 Fortunately, most stunned infants only require simple stimulation to start breathing.45
If respirations are inadequate, position the airway and clear secretions if they are copious and/or obstructing the airway. Use of the bulb syringe or suction catheter should be reserved for babies who have signs of obstruction.3,4,42 Avoiding unnecessary suctioning helps prevent bradycardia due to suctioning of the nasopharynx.3,42 Newborns are obligate nasal breathers, so ensure the nares are as clear as possible. If the baby is persistently cyanotic or demonstrates labored breathing, reposition the airway and reassess. In the event of thick meconium, emphasis has moved away from tracheal intubation. Although suctioning of meconium via an endotracheal tube with a meconium aspirator still is acceptable, it is recommended only if there is tracheal obstruction.45,46 If needed, ventilate the baby with a mask through meconium if intubation is delayed or prolonged.44
During the transition to extrauterine life, the lungs change from fluid-filled to air-filled, pulmonary blood flow increases dramatically, and cardiac shunts reverse direction and subsequently close.43 Inadequate alveolar expansion can cause respiratory failure. Neonatal resuscitation is directed primarily toward establishing and maintaining early lung aeration, which will overcome the vagal bradycardia.47,48 An increase in heart rate is the most important indicator of effective ventilation because it implies that lung aeration has been successful.42,48
At this point, if ventilation remains inadequate or the heart rate is less than 100 beats per minute, initiate positive pressure ventilation with a bag valve mask at a rate of 40-60 per minute. Target initial peak inspiratory pressure (PIP) is 20 cm H2O. Although T-piece resuscitators are preferred because of lower and more consistent pressure administration, a flow-inflating or self-inflating bag valve mask may be used.47,48 For the first few breaths, until lung aeration is achieved, these pressures are greater than those needed for subsequent breaths.43,48 The same pressures required to first aerate the lung likely will result in excessive tidal volumes with subsequent breaths, risking pneumothorax.43,48 Monitor pulse and oxygen saturation. Options for assessing pulse include precordial auscultation, palpation of pulse at the brachial artery or base of umbilicus, pulse oximetry, or placement of electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes. ECG electrodes provide the most accurate and rapid assessment of heart rate.49 The pulse oximeter should be placed on the right hand or wrist to monitor preductal oxygenation.47,49
Approximately 60 seconds are allotted for completing these initial steps, including drying, warming and stimulating, clearing the airway, and initiating ventilation as needed. At 60 seconds, the initial Apgar score should be recorded. The Apgar score, like the Glasgow Coma Scale, provides standardized communication of a baby’s status between providers and indicates a basic prognosis. The provider assigns scores (0-2) to respiratory effort, heart rate, color, muscle tone, and reflexes and then totals these numbers.49 (See Table 4.) The Apgar score should be repeated at five minutes and every subsequent five minutes until the score reaches at least 7 or until 20 minutes have passed.45
In healthy newborn infants, oxygen levels rise over several minutes, starting at 50-60% immediately at birth and taking up to 10 minutes for saturation to reach 90%.43,47 Infants initially resuscitated with 100% oxygen have higher morbidity and mortality.46,47 For that reason, begin ventilation with a low oxygen concentration (21-30%) and titrate oxygen with a blender to achieve preductal oxygen saturation approximating that measured in healthy term infants.42,46
If the heart rate remains less than 100 beats per minute despite mask ventilation for 30 seconds, corrective steps should be performed to improve ventilation.49 Adjust the mask and reposition the airway. Open the mouth and suction the mouth and nose. Increase the pressure administered with each breath (PIP) from initial 20 cm H2O by 5 cm H2O to a maximum of 40 cm H2O just to achieve good chest rise. Set positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) to 5 cm H2O.42 This will require a T-piece resuscitator, flow-inflating bag, or the addition of a PEEP valve for self-inflating bags. In newborns who are breathing spontaneously but have continued significant respiratory distress, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) may be considered. CPAP potentially decreases the rate of intubation and subsequent days of mechanical ventilation, and reduces bronchopulmonary dysplasia and death.42,45 For persistent apnea or respiratory failure, intubate. In this age group, uncuffed tubes are recommended.45 Use a 3.5 endotracheal tube for infants > 3,000 g (> 38 weeks), 3.0 ET tube for infants 1,250-3,000 g (32-38 weeks), and a 2.5 mm ET tube for infants < 1,250 g (< 32 weeks). Intubation during resuscitation is increasingly difficult with decreasing gestational age and birth weight, often necessitating multiple attempts and possibly resulting in a failed airway, even for practitioners experienced with neonatal intubation.47 Laryngeal mask airways (size 1) are effective rescue devices in newborns at ≥ 34 weeks of gestation.42,44,48,50
If the heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute despite adequate ventilation for 30 seconds and corrective steps, start chest compressions.49 Use a 3:1 ratio of compressions to ventilations, with 90 compressions and 30 breaths to achieve approximately 120 events per minute. The two-thumb-encircling hands technique is preferred because it generates higher systolic and coronary perfusion pressure.42 Once compressions have started, increase the supplemental oxygen concentration to 100%.
Obtain vascular access if this has not already been done. In the ED, the nurses will be most comfortable with peripheral line placement. In a term baby, this is possible but often difficult. If peripheral access is not achieved quickly, seek alternative access. In the newborn, the umbilical vein is the direct intravenous route that can be accessed most quickly. Place umbilical tape (use the elastic from an oxygen mask if you do not have an umbilical venous catheter kit) loosely looped around the base of the umbilicus to be cinched quickly in the event of bleeding. Prepare with betadine. Cut the stump cleanly 2 cm from the skin. Distinguish the umbilical vein (larger, single, thin-walled vessel) from the two umbilical arteries. Flush a 3.5 Fr or 5 Fr umbilical catheter with saline. Insert approximately 3-4 cm into the umbilical vein just until blood returns when aspirated. If umbilical catheters are not available, a 20 G radial arterial line, extra-long 18 G angiocatheter, or nasogastric feeding tube (size 6) may be used.36,45 Alternatively, it is possible to use standard intravenous (IV) technique through the side of the umbilical cord.51 Finally, intraosseous lines are a quick option familiar to emergency physicians. They are not used commonly in newborns because of the fragility of small bones and the very small intraosseous space (approximately 7 mm). Fractures, compartment syndrome, and amputation can occur.51-53 However, they are an option if no other alternative route is available.
Once vascular access is achieved, continue resuscitation by administering epinephrine intravenously (0.01 to 0.03 mg/kg of 1:10,000 solution). Although epinephrine given intravenously or intraosseously is more efficacious, it can be administered via endotracheal tube if vascular access is delayed (0.05 to 0.1 mg/kg of a 1:10,000 solution). If blood loss is suspected (i.e., pale skin, poor perfusion, weak pulse) and the heart rate has not responded adequately, consider volume expansion with a 10 mL/kg bolus of crystalloid solution or blood.42 An Apgar score of 0 at 10 minutes is a strong predictor of mortality. Consider discontinuing resuscitative efforts after 10 minutes of resuscitation if the heart rate remains undetectable.42,45
In the event of delivery of an extremely premature infant, the neonatal resuscitation algorithm still applies with few modifications. If the gestational age cannot be determined (no prenatal care, unknown last menstrual period), assess whether the eyelids are fused. Eyelids open at approximately 22 weeks’ gestation, which is the lower limit of viability. If in doubt, proceed with resuscitation. The extremely premature infant is more likely to require resuscitation for respiratory failure, to be a more difficult intubation, and to develop hypothermia and/or hypoglycemia.9 For infants of < 28 weeks’ gestation, wrap the infant in a polyethylene occlusive wrap (Saran® Wrap) or place in a food-grade plastic bag up to the axillae to maintain temperature.42,43,46 Place the infant on a thermal mattress if available.46
Provide supportive care to the mother and infant after delivery until both patients are transferred from the ED. If both are stable, encourage the mother to breastfeed, stimulating the uterus to contract and maintaining neonatal warmth, especially if there will be any delay in transport.1 The infant should breast or bottle feed as soon as he or she is stable enough to do so. If the infant is unable to feed, start dextrose-containing maintenance IV fluids to prevent hypoglycemia. Prior to transport, both the mother and the neonate should receive matching identification bracelets.1,4
Because the need for newborn delivery and resuscitation in an ED cannot be predicted, it is judicious to prepare by ensuring that the medical and nursing staff are trained appropriately and that the necessary equipment is available. (See Table 5.) Neonatal resuscitation algorithms should be posted in an appropriate area (near the neonatal warmer) to provide visual prompts during resuscitation.54 A strategic plan for urgent consultation and referral should exist between a maternity hospital and the ED when obstetric services are not available.8,55 In situ multidisciplinary simulation exercises can reinforce resuscitation skills and identify breakdowns in departmental policies. Therefore, they are recommended to improve delivery of care.2,7,20,24,26,28,31,55,56
Pregnant women who present to the ED need high-quality, competent, and multidisciplinary care. All ED staff must be familiar with the correct procedures to manage pregnancies, births, and subsequent neonatal resuscitations when they occur unexpectedly in the ED. Although most deliveries are straightforward and most neonates transition to extrauterine life with minimal assistance, rare complications do occur.
Financial Disclosure: To reveal any potential bias in this publication, and in accordance with Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education guidelines, we disclose that Dr. Farel (CME question reviewer), Dr. Schneider (editor), Dr. Stapczynski (editor), Ms. Light (nurse planner), Dr. McFarlin (author), Dr. Leetch (peer reviewer), Ms. Mark (executive editor), and Ms. Coplin (editorial group manager), report no financial relationships with companies related to the field of study covered by this CME activity.