Vaginal preparation with antiseptic solution before cesarean section for preventing postoperative infections

David Haas, Sarah Morgan, Karenrose Contreras, Savannah Enders

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

2 Scopus citations


Background: Cesarean delivery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed by obstetricians. Infectious morbidity after cesarean delivery can have a tremendous impact on the postpartum woman's return to normal function and her ability to care for her baby. Despite the widespread use of prophylactic antibiotics, postoperative infectious morbidity still complicates cesarean deliveries. This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in 2010 and subsequently updated in 2012, and twice in 2014. Objectives: To determine if cleansing the vagina with an antiseptic solution before a cesarean delivery decreases the risk of maternal infectious morbidities, including endometritis and wound complications. We also assessed the side effects of vaginal cleansing solutions to determine adverse events associated with the intervention. Search methods: We searched Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth's Trials Register,, the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (10 July 2017), and reference lists of retrieved studies. Selection criteria: We included randomized trials and one quasi-randomized trial assessing the impact of vaginal cleansing immediately before cesarean delivery with any type of antiseptic solution versus a placebo solution/standard of care on post-cesarean infectious morbidity. Cluster-randomized trials were eligible for inclusion but none were identified. We excluded trials that utilized vaginal preparation during labor or that did not use antibiotic surgical prophylaxis. We also excluded any trials using a cross-over design. Data collection and analysis: At least three of the review authors independently assessed eligibility of the studies. Two review authors were assigned to extract study characteristics, quality assessments, and data from eligible studies. Main results: We included 11 trials reporting results for 3403 women evaluating the effects of vaginal cleansing (eight using povidone-iodine, two chlorhexidine, one benzalkonium chloride) on post-cesarean infectious morbidity. Additionally, some trials used vaginal preparations using sponge sticks, douches, or soaked gauze wipes. The control groups were typically no vaginal preparation (eight trials) or the use of a saline vaginal preparation (three trials). The risk of bias in the studies reduced our confidence in the results for endometritis outcomes. Vaginal preparation with antiseptic solution immediately before cesarean delivery probably reduces the incidence of post-cesarean endometritis from 8.7% in control groups to 3.8% in vaginal cleansing groups (average risk ratio (RR) 0.36, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.20 to 0.63, 10 trials, 3283 women, moderate quality of evidence). Subgroup analysis could not rule out larger reductions in endometritis with antiseptics in women who were in labor or in women whose membranes had ruptured when antiseptics were used. Risks of postoperative fever and postoperative wound infection may be slightly lowered by antiseptic preparation, but the confidence intervals around the effects for both outcomes are consistent with a large reduction in risk and no difference between groups (fever: RR 0.87 (0.72 to 1.05; wound infection: RR 0.74 (95% CI 0.49 to 1.11), both moderate-quality evidence). Two trials reported a lower risk of a composite outcome of wound complication or endometritis in women receiving preoperative vaginal preparation (RR 0.46, 95% CI 0.26 to 0.82, two trials, 499 women, moderate-quality evidence). No adverse effects were reported with either the povidone-iodine or chlorhexidine vaginal cleansing. Authors' conclusions: Vaginal preparation with povidone-iodine or chlorhexidine solution compared to saline or not cleansing immediately before cesarean delivery probably reduces the risk of post-cesarean endometritis. Subgroup analysis could not rule out larger reductions in endometritis with antiseptics in women who were in labor or in women whose membranes had ruptured when antiseptics were used. The quality of the evidence using GRADE was moderate for all reported outcomes. We downgraded the outcome of post-cesarean endometritis and composite of wound complications or endometritis for risk of bias and postoperative fever and postoperative wound infections for wide CIs. As a simple, generally inexpensive intervention, providers may consider implementing preoperative vaginal cleansing with povidone-iodine or chlorhexidine before performing cesarean deliveries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberCD007892
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 17 2018


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)

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