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Epidural May Make Labor Last Even Longer, Study Says

Study says epidurals prolong labor
Photograph by www.jupiterimages.com

In the throes of a painful, hours-long labor, that sweet, sweet epidural may seem like a saving grace. But while it may take the edge off those contractions, a new study claims it could also make the whole ordeal last longer. Like a lot longer.

The California study, which was published last week in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, reviewed the records of 42,000 women who gave birth vaginally between the years of 1976 and 2008. Researchers then compared just how long each woman (those who received an epidural versus those who didn't) was in the second stage of labor.

The results? While it was previously believed that epidurals prolong second-stage labor only by about an hour, the women in the study actually experienced two to three more hours of labor. (How sweet is that epidural looking now, huh?)

On the upside: According to LiveScience, these new stats could impact how fast doctors jump to perform a C-section. After all, since doctors often opt for the C-section whenever labor is thought to be taking too long, they now have more reasons to hold out a bit longer. (That is, at least for moms who've received epidurals.) And considering the fact that about 60 percent of deliveries involve epidurals each year, that's a whole lot of unnecessary C-sections that could potentially be avoided.

"Although the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists specifically says that the doctor doesn't have to intervene based on the passage of time alone, it is still kind of a gray zone," says Dr. Yvonne Cheng, one of the study's lead researchers, and an obstetrician at University of California, San Francisco.

For the first-time moms in the study, their second stage of labor took a whopping 336 minutes with an epidural, versus just 197 minutes without one. (For the quick math on that one, it's a difference of 2 hours and 19 minutes.)

Second-time moms in the study fared a bit worse if they opted for the epidural: the second stage of labor was shorter—255 minutes—but was only 81 minutes for moms who'd done without the labor meds. (That's a difference of 2 hours and 54 minutes in total.)

While it's still not entirely known just why epidurals prolong labor, it's generally thought that just as the medication relaxes the pelvic muscles, it reduces mom's urge to push.

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