New Data Suggests Women are Spending a Longer Time in Labor than in the Past

A new study on childbirth could have important implications for women who are pregnant. The study determined that women are spending a longer time in labor than they were just 50 years ago.

The study, by Dr. Katherine Laughon, of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and colleagues, compared historical records from 39, 491 women who gave birth from 1959 to 1966, to records of 98,359 women who gave birth during 2002 to 2008.  Interestingly, the data collected showed that women in their first pregnancy, from the contemporary group, took an average of 2.6 hours longer in their first phase of labor than did women from the past group. Women in their second pregnancy also had longer first phases of labor than did women in the past group. The study also found that women in the contemporary group took a longer time in the second stage of labor than did women from the past. However, the difference in time measured in minutes rather than hours for the second phase of labor.

Researchers are perplexed as to why women are spending a longer time in labor than in the past. However, it is believed that epidurals may be one of the reasons why women are spending a longer time in labor. Generally, it has been found that epidurals can prolong labor by 40 to 90 minutes.  Not surprisingly, in the contemporary group, 55% of the women received epidurals during labor compared to only 4% of women in the group from the past.  The amount of women who received oxytocin to strengthen contractions and/or speed up delivery also increased, with 31% of women in the contemporary group receiving the drug compared to only 12% of women from the past group. Additionally, there were more women in the contemporary group who gave birth via cesarean section than in the group from the past. 

The study also took into account differences between the women in the two groups such as age, ethnicity and weight.  The women in the contemporary group tended to be older and heavier than the women in the group from the past.  Notwithstanding these differences, the data still suggested a longer phase of labor for women in the latter group.

As stated above, these new findings can have serious implications for women who are pregnant or who are considering pregnancy because doctors may still be administering oxytocin and other such drugs according to past standards of what is considered “normal” labor time. With this new data, doctors may be advised to wait longer before administering drugs that speed up labor time and/or opting for cesarean section.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/4726887709/

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