As it is, childbirth is a super-scary unknown for first-time moms. Of course you want the cuddly prize at the end. But the step-by-step pain and suffering that gets you said cutie? Not so much. Not to completely freak you out, but the bad news—according to a new study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco—is that a healthy birth can actually take much longer than doctors originally thought.
Usually, OBs intervene and try to speed up labor if it doesn't seem to be progressing in a timely manner. Often, that's based on the length of the second stage of labor. As reported in the New York Times, anything over three hours for first-time moms, who've been given epidurals, is considered "abnormally long," as is more than two hours for first timers without an epidural (Yes, getting an epidural seems to prolong birth, but doctors warn not to jump to conclusions, because longer labor could be caused by other factors that influence whether a woman chooses an epidural rather than the epidural itself).
The thing is those times used to judge what's normal versus dangerous are based on outdated data from decades ago when fetal monitoring was pretty non-existent, medical interventions were the norm, and on average pregnant women were younger and weighed less. According to this new study that compared data from over 42,000 women who delivered children between 1976 to 2008, a normal second stage can actually be more like 5. 6 hours for first-time moms using epidurals and 3.3 hours for those without epidurals; 4.25 hours for women receiving epidurals, who've previously had children, and 1.35 hours for repeat moms who didn't use an epidural. Ugh!
Before I scare you to death, there is a silver lining! If longer second labor is normal, fewer drugs, forceps, vacuums, and C-sections may be needed than previously thought. Now doctors are quick to jump the gun and want to intervene. Not without cause, though. Longer labor does mean increased risk of tearing and postpartum hemorrhage (neither of which sounds very comfortable!). But C-Sections—which are now used for about one in every three births in the US, an increase of nearly 50 percent over C-sections used in the mid-1990s—can also come with big risks for mom and baby. So even though the thought of labor taking even longer is hard to swallow, the need for fewer C-sections is something to celebrate!
TELL US: What's your biggest childbirth fear? Would you rather have a longer birth, or a C-section? Share your experiences below.
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Image of mom and newborn courtesy of Shutterstock.