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

Like the idea of getting through labour quickly? If you can push through the pain without the epidural anesthetic, you might be reducing your risk of an unplanned c-section.

Dr Yvonne Chang is the lead author of a US study that was 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 labour took more than two hours longer to deliver compared to women who did not get the pain relief. The researchers believe that this is very relevant to the increase in caesarean sections (which have increased by 50 perecent since the period of 1990-1995, according to the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention), since the most common reasons for c-section deliveries is a slowing of labour 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 labour – pushing – and found that those who didn’t have the epidural completed that portion of labour 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 labour 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 labour. The health of babies was not affected by the pain reliever, although mothers do tend to have more complications following a long labour.

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Image: Getty