Does Getting an Epidural Increase Your Risk of Having an Unplanned C-Section?

Dr. Yvonne Chang is the lead author of a new study that will be highlighted in Obstetrics and Gynecology (March 2014) and a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Chang and her team found that women who had epidurals during labor took more than two hours longer to deliver compared to women who did not get the pain reliever. The researchers believe that this is very relevant to the increase in cesarean sections (which have increased by 50 perecent since the period of 1990-1995, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), since the most common reasons for c-section deliveries is a slowing of labor or the baby not progressing through the birth canal.

In their study, the team compared data on 42,000 women who delivered at their hospital, with approximately half the women receiving the epidural anesthesia. They looked specifically at the second stage of labor – pushing – and found that those who didn’t have the epidural completed that portion of labor in an average of 3 hours, 20 minutes. Those who took the shot took an average of 5 hours, 40 minutes. While a shot to relieve labor pains has always been known to increase delivery time, this study says that time increase may be longer than originally thought.

Most physicians agree that women shouldn’t shy away from having an epidural simply because it will prolong their labor. The health of babies was not affected by the pain reliever, although mothers do tend to have more complications following a long labor.


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