Purpose of review
Over the past 20 years, several randomized studies have compared Valsalva and spontaneous pushing techniques during vaginal delivery. This review summarizes current medical knowledge concerning their maternal and fetal consequences, focusing on pelvic and perineal outcomes.
We selected nine randomized controlled trials comparing Valsalva and spontaneous pushing, and a secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial comparing different methods of perineal protection. Two trials showed that spontaneous pushing reduces the risk of perineal tears, but no firm conclusions can be drawn given the heterogeneity and inconsistent results of these studies. Conflicting results have been reported regarding the duration of the second stage of labor. Pushing technique does not seem to affect episiotomy, instrumental delivery or cesarean rates. Maternal satisfaction seems to be better after spontaneous pushing. Spontaneous pushing appears to have no adverse effects on neonatal well being, and one study showed a significant improvement in prenatal fetal parameters during the expulsive phase.
Valsalva and spontaneous pushing techniques currently appear comparable in terms of duration, pelvic floor, perineal, and neonatal outcomes. In the absence of strong evidence in favor of either technique, the decision should be guided by patient preference and the clinical situation. Additional, well-designed randomized controlled trials are required.