Epidural Anesthesia May Increase Length of Labor: Study

Traditional medicine often teaches doctors that women who undergo an epidural during labor often take an hour longer to deliver their baby. However, new research suggests that epidural anesthesia may increase labor time by much longer than previously believed.

In a study published this week in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers found women were taking more than two hours longer to deliver their children when given epidural anesthesia compared to those who did not have the epidural.

While the research suggests that the health of the babies were similar in all cases, mothers who received epidurals experienced more complications and risks as a result of the longer labors.

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The study involved data on more than 42,000 women who delivered babies between 1976 and 2008 at the University of California, San Francisco. The mothers delivered vaginally and all had typical neonatal outcomes. About half the mothers were given an epidural, the other half were not.

Women who had no previous children experienced a second stage of labor, the pushing stage, which was about three hours long. Women who had no previous children but were given the epidural experienced labors five hours and 40 minutes long on average, a difference of more than two hours.

Researchers compared the data with women who delivered babies, but had given birth previously. The women who delivered without the epidural experienced a second stage of labor which was approximately one hour and 20 minutes. The women who had given birth before, but opted for the epidural experienced labor which was four hours and 15 minutes long on average. Overall, taking nearly three hours longer to deliver their baby than the women who didn’t have the epidural.

Doctors are often taught that a woman who is given an epidural will experience a second stage of labor that is an extra hour longer. Researchers caution this information is outdated and the second stage of labor is taking more than two hours longer, in some cases three hours, to complete when given an epidural.

Longer Labors Lead to C-Sections, Risks

Statistics show, one in every three births in the United States is a cesarean section, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is an increase in c-section of more than 50 percent since the mid-1990s.

Researchers speculate this may be due to the increased labor and delivery times. Doctors may think the deliver is taking much longer for a woman given an epidural, when in fact, the delivery is progressing at a normal rate.

They suggest the current time-frames be updated to reflect the new findings, so doctors will be prepared for longer delivery times in the future. They hope doctors will refrain from unnecessary c-sections and evaluating based on the health of the child and mother only.

A woman who undergoes a c-section often experiences a longer hospital stay and will also experience additional risks for herself and her newborn. Risks may include infection, uterine rupture and longer recovery time.

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