“We found that exchanging the epidural anesthetic with a [non-drug] saline placebo made no difference in the duration of the second stage of labor,” said study lead researcher Dr. Philip Hess. He directs obstetric anesthesia at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Dr. Jennifer Wu, an ob/gyn who reviewed the new findings, said there are “important aspects to this study.”
Use of “low-dose epidurals versus placebos during the pushing stage of labor did not increase duration of pushing” or the need for a C-section, said Wu, who works at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
As the study authors explained, epidurals involve a combination of strong painkillers and anesthetics delivered through a tube placed near the nerves of the spine. But since their introduction in the 1970s, epidurals have been thought by some to slow labor once the cervix is completely dilated — a period known as the second stage of labor.