New research says giving women an extra hour to labor might reduce the rate of unplanned C-sections by 55 percent.
woman in labor in hospital
Credit: Layland Masuda/Getty Images

We know C-section rates are on the rise—as many as 30 percent of deliveries currently end in cesareans. This is concerning, because some research suggests babies born via C-section are more likely to suffer a variety of complications, both in the short and long term. And moms are also put at higher risk for complications.

Now a new study out of Thomas Jefferson University and published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that if women are given more time to deliver on their own during the final phase of labor, C-section rates could drop by as much as 55 percent, without adversely affecting the health of mothers.

Would you believe the recommendation to wait two hours until resorting to a C-section dates back to the 1800s? Ten to 15 percent of C-sections result from waiting two hours. The recommendation was adjusted in the 1980s to three hours, as long as a laboring woman has had an epidural.

It's not a lot more time that women would need; just an hour more so the total time is four hours (with an epidural), according to this research.

Researchers looked at 78 women between 36 and 41 weeks pregnant. Some participants were chosen for an "extended labor" group that labored for the additional hour, while the other women were in the "usual labor" group. Almost all women had an epidural, and about half were induced.

The difference in the resulting C-section rate is marked; 19.5 percent in the extended group but 43 percent in the usual labor group!

It's worth noting more research needs to be done before things change officially. "This was a small study, so a formal change in guidelines should be based on a larger sample of women," says Alexis C. Gimovsky, M.D., a Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellow at The Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. "But this study shows what we have observed in practice—there is benefit to allowing women to labor longer."

The takeaway: If you are trying to avoid a C-section, it might be worth it to talk to your doctor about laboring longer as you near the finish line.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.