New Research Suggests Epidurals Do Not Slow Labour

Modesto Morganelli
Ottobre 11, 2017

Researchers in the USA have found having an epidural does not slow down labour for pregnant women, contrary to popular belief.

"Not even the pain scores were statistically different between groups". The duration of labour averaged 52 minutes for women given active pain medication versus about 51 minutes for women given the saline, just a 3.3% difference, said the report.

Obstetricians routinely reduce the mother's pain relief during the second stage of labour in an effort to accelerate the most risky part of childbirth. The median times were also similar: 45 minutes for women on active pain medication versus 46 for those on saline.

Epidurals, which deliver pain-numbing medications close to the nerves of the spine via catheter, have been widely used since the 1970s.

The study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found the medication had no effect on how long labour lasted or normal natural childbirth rate.

It also did not increase the incidence of episiotomy, a small incision to enlarge the opening of the vagina, the position of the foetus at birth or any other measure of its wellbeing.

"We found that exchanging the epidural anaesthetic with a saline placebo made no difference in the duration of the second stage of labour", said senior author Philip Hess, director of obstetric anesthesia at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

The study enrolled healthy, first-time mothers who were provided with a patient-controlled epidural analgesic pump in the first stage of labor.

None of those in the study knew what was being administered.

Prof Hess: "We didn't see any negative effects, but epidural analgesia in the second stage of labour remains controversial and merits follow up studies".

Researchers compared the effects of low-concentration epidural anaesthetic with a saline placebo on the study participants, news.com.au reports.

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