Symphysiotomy results in a temporary increase in pelvic diameter (up to 2 cm) by surgically dividing the ligaments of the symphysis under local anaesthesia. This procedure should
be carried out only in combination with vacuum extraction.. Symphysiotomy in combination with vacuum extraction is a life-saving procedure in areas where caesarean
section is not feasible or immediately available. Symphysiotomy leaves no uterine scar and the risk of ruptured uterus in future labours is not increased.
These benefits must, however, be weighed against the risks of the procedure. Risks include urethral and bladder injury, infection, pain and long-term walking difficulty.
Symphysiotomy should, therefore, be carried out only when there is no safe alternative.
- contracted pelvis;
- vertex presentation;
- prolonged second stage;
- failure to descend after proper augmentation;
- AND failure or anticipated failure of vacuum extraction alone.
- fetus is alive;
- cervix is fully dilated;
- head at -2 station or no more than 3/5 above the symphysis pubis;
- no over-riding of the head above the
- caesarean section is not feasible or immediately available;
- the provider is experienced and proficient in
Abduction of the thighs more than 45̊ from the midline may cause tearing of the urethra and bladder.
Position of the woman for symphysiotomy
Note: Aspirate (pull back on the plunger) to be sure that no vessel has been penetrated. If
blood is returned in the syringe with aspiration, remove the needle. Recheck the
position carefully and try again. Never inject if blood is aspirated. The woman can suffer seizures and death if IV injection occurs.
Anaesthetize early to provide sufficient time for effect.
Insert a firm catheter to identify the urethra.
Apply antiseptic solution to the suprapubic skin.
Wearing high-level disinfected gloves, place an index finger in the vagina and push the catheter, and with it the urethra, away from the midline (Fig P-26).
Pushing urethra to one side after inserting the catheter
With the other hand, use a thick, firm-bladed scalpel to make a vertical stab incision over the
Keeping to the midline, cut down through the cartilage joining the two pubic bones until the pressure of the scalpel blade is felt on the finger in the vagina.
Cut the cartilage downwards to the bottom of the
symphysis, then rotate the blade and cut upwards to the top of the
Once the symphysis has been divided through its whole length, the pubic bones will separate.
Dividing the cartilage
After separating the cartilage, remove the catheter to decrease urethral trauma.
Deliver by vacuum extraction. Descent of the head causes the symphysis to separate 1 or 2 cm.
After delivery, catheterize the bladder with a self-retaining bladder catheter.
There is no need to close the stab incision unless there is bleeding.
- ampicillin 2 g IV every 6 hours;
- PLUS gentamicin 5 mg/kg body weight IV every 24 hours;
- PLUS metronidazole 500 mg IV every 8 hours.
Give appropriate analgesic drugs.
Apply elastic strapping across the front of the pelvis from one iliac crest to the other to
stabilize the symphysis and reduce pain.
Leave the catheter in the bladder for a minimum of 5 days.
Encourage the woman to drink plenty of fluids to ensure a good urinary output.
Encourage bed rest for 7 days after discharge from hospital.
Encourage the woman to begin to walk with assistance when she is ready to do so.
long-term walking difficulties and pain are reported (occur in 2% of cases), treat with physical therapy.
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