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Can an epidural slow down labor?

Epidural analgesia allows for excellent pain management, has been used for over 50 years in obstetrical care and has a strong record of safety for both mother and baby. You should speak with your anesthesiologist and feel comfortable that you understand the procedure, risks, benefits and alternatives to your situation, and that your questions have been answered. Your care team will monitor your blood pressure and your baby's heart tones before, during and after your epidural just as they would in the normal course of your labor.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

An epidural given at the appropriate time in labor will not slow labor down. There is a good video clip on this question done by the YOUdocs and information in their book YOU: Having A Baby. If you are considering an epidural, discuss this with your OBGYN or Midwife during your prenatal visits prior to being in labor when you can focus on a discussion of all the risks and benefits. You may also want to consider taking a birthing class where they can go over all of your options for pain management in labor so that you can make the decision that is the best one for you and your baby.

Denise Long
Denise Long on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Nursing Specialist

Research studies vary on the answer to this question. Some studies show that an epidural can slow labor if given too early in the labor process. These studies, and many of the professionals who practice in labor and delivery, suggest that it may be better to wait until active labor (4 or more centimeters dilated with regular, strong contractions) to get an epidural in order to decrease the chance of this side effect. Epidural anesthesia has this risk, as well as others, so talk to your healthcare provider and anesthesiologist. They can give you the information you need to make the decision best for you. Your healthcare providers want you to be as comfortable as possible during your delivery process so keep in mind that if you need the epidural early in the labor process, they will support your decision and could use other interventions, such as the medication oxytocin, to bring the labor progress back to a good pattern.

An epidural does not slow labor. Watch this video to learn what studies have shown about the effects of an epidural on labor.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.