In a society where everything seems to always be going faster and faster, one thing is not, much to the dismay of expectant mothers. According to a recent study to be published in the next issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women are in labor about 2.6 hours longer than their counterparts 50 years ago.
The study conducted by the National Institutes of Health compared data from 39,491 women giving birth between 1959 and 1966 to data from 98,359 women giving birth between 2002 and 2008. The researchers did not consider the records of women whose labor was induced. Additionally, only those pregnant with one child were considered.
The study did not address the reasons why labor appears to be lasting longer. However, researchers have their suspicions.
Dr. Katherine Laughon, the study’s lead author and physician for the Epidemiology Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, looks to the increased use of epidurals as a possible cause NPR reports. She said, “That is known to prolong labor by approximately 40 to 90 minutes. Of course, it’s very accepted practice to help improve pain control during labor.”
Dr. Ware Branch, study author and physician at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, added that once the epidural is administered, mothers are not able to move like their counterparts. He stated, “Once that’s in place, they’re in bed. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, how much did people get up out of bed during labor and walk around?”
MSNBC reports that 55% of the women in the 2002-2008 study group were administered epidurals while only 4% in the 1959-1966 group were.
Researchers did find that even with adjusting for demographics including body mass index, age, and ethnicity, the results still held.
In a press release, Dr. Laughon stated, “Older mothers tend to take longer to give birth than do younger mothers. But when we take maternal age into account, it doesn’t completely explain the difference in labor times.”
While the study did identify changes in delivery practices such as the increase in epidurals, C-sections, and oxytocin-induced labors, more research needs to be done to determine the true causes.
Dr. Laughon stated, “Women may simply need more time to deliver than they used to.”