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ObjectiveTo investigate maternal lactate concentrations in labour and the puerperium DESIGN: Reference study SETTING: Tertiary obstetric unit POPULATION: 1,279 pregnant women with good perinatal outcomes at term METHODS: Electronic patient records were searched for women who had lactate measured on the day of delivery or in the following 24 hours, but who were subsequently found to have a very low likelihood of sepsis, based on their outcomes.Main outcome measuresThe normative distribution of lactate and C-reactive protein (CRP), differences according to the mode of birth, and the proportion of results above the commonly used cut-offs (≥2 and ≥4 mmol/L).ResultsLactate varied between 0.4-5.4 mmol/L (median 1.8 mmol/L, IQR 1.3-2.5). It was higher in women who had vaginal deliveries than Caesarean sections (median 1.9 vs. 1.6 mmol/L, pdiff <0.001), demonstrating the relationship with labour (particularly active pushing in the second stage). In contrast, CRP was more elevated in women who had Caesarean sections (median 71.8 mg/L) than those who had vaginal deliveries (33.4 mg/L, pdiff <0.001). In total, 40.8% had a lactate ≥2 mmol/L, but 95.3% were <4 mmol/L.ConclusionsLactate in labour and the puerperium is commonly elevated above the levels expected in healthy pregnant or non-pregnant women. There is a paucity of evidence to support using lactate or CRP to make decisions about antibiotics around the time of delivery but, as lactate is rarely higher than 4 mmol/L, this upper limit may still represent a useful severity marker for the investigation and management of sepsis in labour.

Original publication




Journal article


BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology

Publication Date



Women's Centre, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, OX3 9DU, Oxford.