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Study finds that epidural pain relief during labour may help mothers with health problems and mothers with premature babies

A study published in the British Medical Journal reports that mothers who have health problems or who gave birth to premature babies were 35% less likely to develop severe health complications during or after childbirth if they had epidural pain relief in labour.
In a study of 567,216 mothers who gave birth in Scotland between 2007 and 2019, only 25% of mothers who were at higher risk of developing severe health problems during childbirth got an epidural during labour.
The lead researcher Professor Rachel Kearns from the University of Glasgow said: “This finding underscores the need to ensure access to epidurals, particularly for those who are most vulnerable – women facing higher medical risks or delivering prematurely.
“By broadening access and improving awareness, we can significantly reduce the risk of serious health outcomes and ensure safer childbirth experiences.”
Professor Deborah Lawlor from the University of Bristol and a co-author of the study said: “It is also important that women who would benefit from an epidural to prevent them becoming seriously ill are provided with easy-to-understand information to help them make informed decisions”.
Other studies by the same researchers and other research teams have previously reported that mothers who live in more deprived areas or who are from ethnic minorities are less likely to receive epidural pain relief.
OAA President Dr Nuala Lucas said: “The OAA is working hard to improve the information available on our LabourPains.org website, so mothers find it is easier to read and understand and are better able to choose the pain relief that is best for them”
The study was funded by NHS Research Scotland, the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation.

View the study