According to a new study by the National Institute of Health, women are spending more time in labor that they did 50 years ago.
After comparing almost 40,000 births from 1959-1966 to almost 100,000 births from 2002-2008, researchers found that labor was, on average, about 2.6 hours longer for first-time mothers who had given birth in recent years. For women who had previously given birth, labor lasted about two hours longer.
Women from the contemporary group were about four years older than those from the 1960s group and also had a higher body mass index than the earlier cohort of delivering mothers. Babies from the contemporary group were born an average of five days earlier than those born in the 1960s, but were slightly bigger and healthier at birth.
Though these factors may have influenced the increase in delivery times in recent births, the researchers concluded that much of the change is likely due to changes in obstetric practices.
Medical intervention during delivery was much more common among women giving birth in the 2002-2008 group. Only four percent of women delivering in the earlier cohort received epidural anesthesia, compared with 55 percent in the contemporary group. About 12 percent of women in the first group received oxytocin to induce labor, compared with 31 percent in the contemporary cohort. The study also found the rate of cesarean delivery was four times higher today than it was 50 years ago. Oxyctocin, which is commonly used to induce labor and speed up the birthing process, may not always work and can thus lead to unplanned cesarean births.
These findings mirror recent concerns that more and more deliveries are being electively induced prior to 39 weeks of completed gestation. Research shows that babies born prior to 39 weeks are at greater risk for both immediate and lasting health problems. The Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative is working to eliminate elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks of completed pregnancy in Florida by placing hard stops in Florida hospitals to prevent the scheduling of deliveries prior to 39 weeks without a medical reason, including the standardization of oxytocin usage protocols. For more information on the initiative, funded by the March of Dimes Florida Chapter, click here.