Study Claims Epidurals Don’t Slow Labor

by ParentCo. November 27, 2017

woman in a hospital bed

The birth plan. We research, we ask questions, we pry into our friend’s memories – we do it all for the sake of having that perfect birth. For both first-time and veteran mothers, the idea of creating the ideal birth can be daunting and overwhelming. There is no such thing as a textbook delivery. And as we know, sometimes a mother’s body does not cooperate with the well-plotted birthing strategy.

Abstaining from an epidural can be an integral part of the mapwork towards the final destination – our own idyllic birth story. A mother may want to increase her chances of a natural childbirth, and like the midwife guru Ina May Gaskin says, “When avoidance of pain becomes the major emphasis of childbirth care, the paradoxical effect is that more women have to deal with pain after their babies are born.” Essentially, many women become afraid that if they get an epidural their birth will end in a cesarean section.

Some women also may not want to take the chance of lengthening their labor. Who wants to make the agony of labor longer? They want their sweet trophy lying on their naked chest as soon as they can. To accomplish this, many women want to avoid the epidural at all costs. Furthermore, obstetricians may turn off or turn down a patient’s epidural because they want their patient to feel the need to push and de-numbing is one way to accomplish this. If a woman feels the need to push, it could speed up the birthing process. But, a recent study by Obstetrics and Genecology debunks the idea that an epidural prolongs labor. The study was conducted on 400 women. Two hundred received an epidural and the other half received a saline placebo instead. The study showed that it took the epidural group 52 minutes and the placebo group 51 minutes while in their second stage of labor – the pushing phase. In essence, once the women were fully dilated, both groups heard the first cries of their little bundle within one hour of pushing . The fact that a woman received an epidural did not making the pushing time of labor last any longer.

Dr. Philip Hess, director of obstetric anesthesia at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center told the Huffington Post, “Women who have prolonged, more difficult labors are more likely to request pain relief, but that does not mean the epidural itself is the reason behind the longer delivery time, he argued.” I can certainly attest to this one. While attempting my successful VBAC, I finally received my epidural after 35 hours of labor. My first labor was over one day long, too. Some women unfortunately have more difficult labors, and this study negates what we used to think about getting an epidural: that we will push longer and chances of having a vaginal birth dwindle.

If women are passionate about their birth plan which includes a natural childbirth, then they should do their best to adhere to that plan. It’s your right. But if you’re worried about getting an epidural because you’re afraid it will extend your labor and the time you push, the study simply suggests that that it won’t. The epidural will not interfere with the length of time you push.



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