Postpartum haemorrhage accounts for nearly 28% of maternal mortality in developing countries. Syntometrine is an effective and commonly used oxytocic in preventing postpartum haemorrhage, but it requires a controlled storage environment and i.m. administration. Misoprostol is an orally active uterotonic agent. A total of 2058 patients having a singleton pregnancy, low risk for postpartum haemorrhage and vaginal delivery were randomized to receive either 1 ml syntometrine or 600 microgram misoprostol for the management of the third stage of labour. There were no significant differences between the two groups in the mean blood loss, the incidence of postpartum haemorrhage and the fall in haemoglobin concentration. The need for additional oxytocic injection was significantly higher in the misoprostol group [relative risk (RR) 1.62, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.34-1.96], but that of manual removal of placenta was reduced (RR 0.29, 95% CI 0.09-0.87). Shivering and transient pyrexia were more common in the misoprostol group. Oral misoprostol might be used in the management of the third stage, especially in situations where the use of syntometrine is contraindicated and facilities for storage and parenteral administration of oxytocics are limited.