A new study in the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal has found that using epidurals to deal with pain during a baby's delivery may prolong labor more than originally expected.
The Huffington Post reports that researchers have compared the length of the second stage of labor, which is the time it takes for "pushing" the baby out after the cervix is fully opened, of more than 42,000 women in California who delivered vaginally between 1976 and 2008; including both women who received epidurals and women who did not.
Researchers have found that the accepted thought of epidurals lengthening deliveries by an hour could be wrong and that women who had epidurals could actually have their delivery lengthened by two to three hours.
The findings could affect doctors' decisions to perform cesarean-section (C-Section) deliveries, the researchers said.
Some C-sections are performed because labor is judged as taking too long. The new findings suggest that for women who receive an epidural, doctors may be able to wait a little longer before opting for the surgery, the Huffington Post reports.
According to the new study, for women who were having a baby for the first time, the second stage of labor took 336 minutes with epidural, and 197 minutes without epidural — a difference of 2 hours and 19 minutes.
The difference in times increased even more among women who had already delivered; the length of the second stage was 255 minutes with epidural and just 81 minutes without epidural, a difference of two hours and 54 minutes, according to the study.
Researchers cautioned that labor norms should not be established based on their study alone, and that more research is required to re-establish what should be considered normal labor in the contemporary population.