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Epidurals Lengthen Delivery Time by Two Hours

Update Date: Feb 07, 2014 10:56 AM EST

Even though the act of giving life to another human being is often described as wonderful, the process of giving birth can be excruciatingly painful. For some women, opting for an epidural could relieve some of that pain. Epidurals are considered safe but are known to extend delivery time. However, people did not realize just how much longer epidurals lengthened birth until a new study reported that epidurals could add two more hours to a delivery.

"The effect of epidural can be longer than we think and as long as the baby looks good and the women are making progress, we don't necessarily have to intervene [and perform a Cesarean section] based on the passage of time," Dr. Yvonne Cheng, study's lead author, explained according to FOX News.

Cheng, who is a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues, explained that even though epidurals extend delivery time, doctors should not intervene and perform a C-section unless it is absolutely necessary. According to the researchers, doctors are often told that epidurals extend labor time by an hour. Therefore after the hour is up, doctors might believe that labor has slowed to the point where a C-section is needed. However, the findings of this study reported that epidurals could lengthen delivery time by two hours or even more in some cases without harming the baby.

The researchers conducted their study by comparing data on more than 42,000 women. The women had given birth between 1976 and 2008. Roughly 50 percent of the women had received epidural anesthesia. The researchers focused on the second stage of labor during the 95th percentile, which is considered to be an extreme. Roughly 19 out of 20 women should ideally complete this stage of labor within the given time.

The team found that for women who were giving birth to their first children and were in the 95th percentile, the second stage of labor lasted around three hours and 20 minutes if they did not receive epidural anesthesia. For women within the same categories that received an epidural, their second stage of labor lasted five hours and 40 minutes. For women who had already given birth in the past and did not receive the shot during this delivery, their second stage of labor at the 95th percentile lasted one hour and 20 minutes. For women with the epidural, their second stage of labor at the 95th percentile lasted four hours and 15 minutes.

"It would appear that the upper limit of what can be tolerated is greater than what was previously thought, which takes away some of the impetus to intervene [with C-section] in what appears to be a premature fashion," commented Dr. Christopher Glantz, a high-risk pregnancy specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. Glantz was not involved with the study.

C-sections have become more and more common today with the rate being around 50 percent higher than it was in the mid-1990s. Even though this procedure is generally safe, it could lead to longer hospital stays and more complications for both mother and child.

The study was published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

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