Study Says an Epidural Could Make Your Labor Last Longer

Photo: Shutterstock / The Bump Photo: Shutterstock / The Bump

Considering an epidural during delivery? You might want to read this first. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found that some women who get an epidural during pregnancy take more than two hours longer to deliver than women who deliver without the shot.

Led by Dr. Yvonne Cheng, researchers compared data from over 42,000 women who delivered their babies at the University of California, San Francisco between 1976 and 2008. About half of the women who delivered during the 32 year time period received an epidural; the other half did not.

Traditionally, Cheng and her colleagues noted, doctors are told that women who receive epidural anesthesia will take an extra hour to complete the second stage of labor (the second stage is the part where you push!). But for the current study, researchers were unclear just where the data came from that noted the “extra hour of labor” as average for a “normal” pregnancy.

So, for the current study, they analyzed the length of the second stage of labor at the 95th percentile. They found that only 19 out of 20 women would successfully deliver baby during that “extra hour” period. When researchers looked at women in the 95th percentile who had never before given birth, they found that the second stage of labor took about three hours and 20 minutes to get through without an epidural. With one, it took nearly five hours and 40 minutes.

Researchers also compared that to women who had already given birth once before. They found that these women (who typically have shorter labors to begin with), took about an hour and 20 minutes to complete the second stage of labor without an epidural. Women who had an epidural, and had previously delivered, took four hours and 15 minutes with an epidural.

Also worth noting is that c-section deliveries are now used in one-out-of-three deliveries in the US, up by about 50 percent from the mid-90s. Cheng and her colleagues, following the research, found that two common reasons for performing c-sections are because labor has appeared to slow down and baby is not progressing through the birth canal.

Overall, researchers found that the second stage of labor took about two hours longer when a woman got an epidural. Which makes it almost like a domino effect: Epidural elongates labor, doctors move toward a c-section thinking that baby is not moving fast enough through the birth canal. The implications of the latest research, if followed up, could mean that doctors look into alternative pain management methods instead of reaching for the epidural.

Cheng and he colleagues wrote that while doctors should not rely on their study to establish how long labor typically lasts, the findings, as well as previous research, suggest that the current definitions are not sufficient.  She says, “All the experts in the field should get together to look at the evidence that’s out there and come up with informed definitions.”

Do you think an epidural could lead to a c-section?

Plus, more from The Bump:

Alternative Birth Methods?

Natural Birth 101: Everything You Need to Know

How Long Will I Push for During Delivery?