A study just published looks at the length of labor now, compared to 50 years ago. There were the obvious things that we hear about more often, that moms are older and heavier, but these researchers said that even looking at those factors, labor was still longer. Their study showed that modern obstetrics has a lot to do with why labor is longer - including the use of epidural anesthesia which adds about 40-90 minutes on the average labor. They even postulated that with the use of Pitocin as rampant as it is in modern obstetrics, an increase in 19% over the 1960s, labor might be even longer than the what the study found: a first time mom has a 2.6 hour longer labor than her 1960s counterpart and that a mom who has previously had a baby will have about two additional hours of labor in modern times.
One of the things that they hope will come from the study is that common labor practices will change. Perhaps the timing for the decision of a cesarean section (c-section) could be outdated, as many cesareans happen prior to 6 centimeters dilation. Women may simply need more time to labor. When asked how women should use this information, one of the study authors said that he thought well informed patients might want to seek out practitioners who understand the differences in labor patterns in modern labor. This again confirms that the choice of your doctor or midwife is crucial to how your birth is likely to be.
They also said that moms who want natural birth may be comfortable waiting longer to getting Pitocin and other labor interventions assuming everything else is going well in labor. Time alone means little when looking at old labor patterns, like the Friedman Curve used in many hospitals.
How will this change your thoughts about the length of labor?
- How long will labor last?
- How is Pitocin used to induce labor?
- Choosing an Epidural for Labor
- Giving Birth by C-Section
- Common Labor Interventions
Laughon, S.K., Branch, D.W., Beaver, J., Zhang, J., Changes in labor patterns over 50 years, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (2012), doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2012.03.003.
Zhang J, Troendle J, Reddy UM, et al, for the Consortium on Safe Labor. Contemporary cesarean delivery practice in the United States. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010;203:326.e1-10.
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