An enema is the injection of fluid into the lower bowel by way of the rectum. The most frequent use of an enema is to relieve constipation or for bowel cleansing before a medical examination or procedure.
Giving women enemas during labour has been routine practice in delivery wards of many countries and settings. Occasionally women leak from their back passage whilst giving birth and it was thought an enema in early labour would reduce this soiling and the consequent embarrassment for women. It was also thought that emptying the back passage would give more room for the baby to be born, would reduce the length of labour and would reduce the chance of infection for both the mother and the baby. It was also suggested it would reduce bowel movements after birth which often cause women concern.
A study in 1981 suggested that when preparing for normal labour the enema should be reserved for women who have not had their bowels open in the past 24 hours and have an obviously loaded rectum on initial pelvic examination.
In a Cochrane Database Review in 2013, the Selection criteria being randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in which an enema was administered during the first stage of labour and which included assessment of possible neonatal or puerperal morbidity or mortality were reviewed. Following meta‐analysis of two trials the authors’ conclusion was – “These findings speak against the routine use of enemas during labour, therefore, such practice should be discouraged”.
Enema versus no-enema in pregnant women on admission in labour: A randomized controlled trial Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand = 88(12):1763-7 · December 2005
To compare the maternal and neonatal outcomes between enema and no-enema in pregnant women on admission in labour. One thousand and one hundred term pregnant women with labour pain were selected randomly on admission to be assigned into two groups at Rajavithi Hospital from 1 February 2002 to 15 June 2002. Five -hundred and thirty-nine cases received enema and five-hundred and sixty one cases received no enema. Seventy three women (39 and 34 cases from the enema and no-enema groups, respectively) were excluded because of caesarean section due to obstetric indications. Five hundred cases received enema and five-hundred and twenty -seven cases received no-enema. All cases were delivered vaginally. There was no statistical significant difference between the two groups with regards to maternal age, gestational age, gravidity, parity, mode of delivery, type of episiotomy and degree of perineal tear. Faecal contamination rate during the second stage of labour was significantly higher in the women who received no-enema (34.9%) in comparison with those receiving enema (22.8% (p < 0.001). No neonatal infection occurred in both groups. Duration of labour was significantly longer in the women who received no-enema (459.8 min) compared with those who received enema (409.4 min) (p < 0.001). No-enema methods on admission in labour had significantly more increase in faecal contamination in the second stage of labour and longer duration of labour than the enema method but there was no difference in perineal wound infection and neonatal infection between both groups.
There continues to be advocates both for and against, particularly amongst midwives and nurses involved in daily deliveries but also with women themselves. There are also marked regional differences.
A survey of maternity practices in Croatia in 2015 found that 78 % of women were given an enema in labour.
Reveiz L, Gaitán HG, Cuervo LG. Enemas during labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7.
Clarke NT, Jenkins TR. Randomized prospective trial of the effects of an enema during labor [abstract]. Obstetrics & Gynecology 2007;109(4 Suppl):7S.
Cuervo LG, Bernal MP, Mendoza N. Effects of high volume saline enemas vs no enema during labour – the N-Ma randomised controlled trial. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2006;6:8.
Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1981;282:1269
Kovavisarach E, Sringamvong W. Enema versus no-enema in pregnant women on admission in labor: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand 2005;88(12):1763-7.
Lurie S, Baider C, Glickman H, Golan A, Sadan O. Are enemas given before cesarean section useful? A prospective randomized controlled study. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology 2012;163(11):27-9.
Romney ML, Gordon H. Is your enema really necessary?. British Medical Journal 1981;282(6272):1269-71.