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Home Home Wellness News Study Debunks Notion That Epidurals Prolong Labor
Study Debunks Notion That Epidurals Prolong Labor
Wellness - Latest Wellness News
Jupiter, FL Dentist

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 10, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Epidurals are a popular form of pain control for women during labor, but they've long been blamed for hindering progress in the delivery room.

However, new research challenges this widely held belief, suggesting that epidurals have no effect on how long labor lasts -- or when babies are born.

"We found that exchanging the epidural anesthetic with a [non-drug] saline placebo made no difference in the duration of the second stage of labor," said study lead researcher Dr. Philip Hess. He directs obstetric anesthesia at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Dr. Jennifer Wu, an ob/gyn who reviewed the new findings, said there are "important aspects to this study."

Use of "low-dose epidurals versus placebos during the pushing stage of labor did not increase duration of pushing" or the need for a C-section, said Wu, who works at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

As the study authors explained, epidurals involve a combination of strong painkillers and anesthetics delivered through a tube placed near the nerves of the spine. But since their introduction in the 1970s, epidurals have been thought by some to slow labor once the cervix is completely dilated -- a period known as the second stage of labor.

When this stage of labor is prolonged and the birth of a baby is delayed, the risk for complications also rises. As a result, some doctors may reduce or cease epidural pain management in an attempt to speed up delivery.

But do epidurals really prolong labor? Wu said that sometimes it can seem that way to patients.

"Patients often cite longer pushing as a reason they are trying to avoid epidural," she explained. "The difficulty for these patients is that there may be many hours of contractions -- and lack of sleep -- before they even get to the second stage or the 'pushing' stage. So, when patients are too numb to push effectively, doctors often cite this as a reason to turn down epidural."

But, of course, reductions in epidural pain relief can mean more discomfort for the woman, Wu noted. It's a "delicate balance," she said.

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