First stage of labor takes longer than it used to, study says

Posted April 16, 2012

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Pregnant women spend more time in labor today than they did 50 years ago due, in part, to the increased use of epidural anesthesia, according to a study published online March 12 in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The first stage of labor increased by about 2.6 hours for first-time mothers between the early 1960s (an average 3.9 hours) and the early 2000s (an average 6.5 hours). For women who had previously given birth, this early stage of labor rose from an average 1.2 hours in the 1960s to 3 hours in recent years. The women in the contemporary group also tended to weigh more and were older than women who gave birth in the 1960s (link).

Among the changes in delivery practices during the studied period was an increased use of epidural anesthesia in the 2000s (administered in more than half of deliveries) compared with the 1960s, when it was used in 4% of deliveries. Researchers examined data on 39,491 deliveries that occurred between 1959 and 1966, and 98,359 deliveries between 2002 and 2008.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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