Context: Postnatal length of hospital stay has reduced internationally but evidence-based policies to support earlier discharge are lacking.
Objective: To determine the effects of early postnatal discharge on infant outcomes.
Data sources: CENTRAL (Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials), Medline, Embase, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature , and SCI (Science Citation Index) were searched through to January 15, 2018.
Study selection: Studies reporting infant outcomes with early postnatal discharge versus standard discharge were included if they met Effective Practice and Organisation of Care study design criteria.
Data extraction: Two authors independently assessed eligibility and extracted data, resolving disagreements by consensus. Data from interrupted time series (ITS) studies were extracted and reanalyzed in meta-analyses. Meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) used random effects models.
Results: Of 9298 studies, 15 met the inclusion criteria. RCT meta-analyses revealed that infants discharged <48 hours after vaginal birth and <96 hours after cesarean birth were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 28 days compared to standard discharge (risk ratio: 1.70; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.34 to 2.15). ITS meta-analyses revealed a reduction in the proportion of infants readmitted within 28 days after minimum postnatal stay policies and legislation were introduced (change in slope: -0.62; 95% CI -1.83 to 0.60), with increasing impact in the first and second years (effect estimate: -4.27 [95% CI -7.91 to -0.63] and -6.23 [95% CI -10.15 to -2.32]).
Limitations: Withdrawals and crossover limited the value of RCTs in this context but not ITS evidence. Conclusions: Infants discharged early after birth were more likely to be admitted within 28 days. The introduction of postnatal minimum length of stay policies was associated with a long-term reduction in neonatal hospital readmission rates.