Lifestyle & Belief

Childbirth takes longer today than 50 years ago

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A Belarussian nurse attends to newborn infants in the maternity ward of a hospital in Minsk, Belarus on Mar. 8, 2010.

Credit:

VIKTOR DRACHEV

US woman spend, on average, two hours longer in childbirth today than they did 50 years ago, according to a new study that will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

A team led by Dr. S. Katherine Laughon of the National Institutes of Health analyzed historic records from 39,491 women who gave birth between 1959 and 1966, and contemporary records of 98,359 women who gave birth between 2002 and 2008, MSNBC reported.

Contemporary Mothers were older, weighed more and used painkillers more during labor and were more likely to have a Cesarean delivery than women 50 years ago, HealthDay News reported.

"Older maternal age and increased BMI (body-mass index, a ratio of weight to height) accounted for a part of the increase. We believe that some aspects of delivery-room practice are also responsible for this increase," lead author Dr. Katherine Laughon, an epidemiologist with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told reporters during a Friday afternoon news conference, HealthDay News reported.

In the 1960s, episiotomy (a surgical incision to enlarge the vaginal opening during delivery) and forceps (surgical instruments used to extract a baby) were more common delivery-room practices, the researchers said, according to HealthDay News. Both can quicken delivery.

Today, more women receive pain-killing epidural injections, MSNBC reported. Epidurals typically prolong labor by about 40 to 90 minutes.

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The study’s findings indicate that the medical establishment might want to revisit what is considered “normal” labor time, Laughon said, according to MSNBC. Currently the definition of normal labor time is based on data from the 1950s. If that changes, doctors would wait longer before administering drugs to speed up the labor or perform a C-section, Laughon said.

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