Introduction: Interventions directed toward mothers before and during pregnancy and childbirth may help reduce preterm births and stillbirths. Survival of preterm newborns may also be improved with interventions given during these times or soon after birth. This comprehensive review assesses existing interventions for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Methods: Approximately 2,000 intervention studies were systematically evaluated through December 31, 2008. They addressed preterm birth or low birth weight; stillbirth or perinatal mortality; and management of preterm newborns. Out of 82 identified interventions, 49 were relevant to LMICs and had reasonable amounts of evidence, and therefore selected for in-depth reviews. Each was classified and assessed by the quality of available evidence and its potential to treat or prevent preterm birth and stillbirth. Impacts on other maternal, fetal, newborn or child health outcomes were also considered. Assessments were based on an adaptation of the Grades of Recommendation Assessment, Development and Evaluation criteria.
Results: Most interventions require additional research to improve the quality of evidence. Others had little evidence of benefit and should be discontinued. The following are supported by moderate- to high-quality evidence and strongly recommended for LMICs: Two interventions prevent preterm births--smoking cessation and progesterone. Eight interventions prevent stillbirths--balanced protein energy supplementation, screening and treatment of syphilis, intermittant presumptive treatment for malaria during pregnancy, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, birth preparedness, emergency obstetric care, cesarean section for breech presentation, and elective induction for post-term delivery. Eleven interventions improve survival of preterm newborns--prophylactic steroids in preterm labor, antibiotics for PROM, vitamin K supplementation at delivery, case management of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia, delayed cord clamping, room air (vs. 100% oxygen) for resuscitation, hospital-based kangaroo mother care, early breastfeeding, thermal care, and surfactant therapy and application of continued distending pressure to the lungs for respiratory distress syndrome
Conclusion: The research paradigm for discovery science and intervention development must be balanced to address prevention as well as improve morbidity and mortality in all settings. This review also reveals significant gaps in current knowledge of interventions spanning the continuum of maternal and fetal outcomes, and the critical need to generate further high-quality evidence for promising interventions.