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Sarah Yang

Childbirth Takes 2 Hours Longer Than It Did In The ‘60s

PUBLISHED ON 04/02/2012

Pregnant women spend a lot more time in the delivery room than their counterparts did 50 years ago. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology by the National Institutes of Health, researchers believe that changes in delivery room practice may be the cause of the increase in birth time, but are unsure about the other factors that contribute to it. In the study, researchers looked at data on deliveries in the early 1960s to the early 2000s. They looked at 40,000 deliveries between 1959 and 1966 and 100,000 deliveries in 2002 to 2008. They found that the first stage of labor increased by 2.6 hours for first-time mothers and for women who had given birth before, it took two hours longer than for women in the 1960s.

There were other differences too. The babies who were born in the early 2000s were normally born five days earlier and tended to weigh more than the babies of 50 years ago did. The moms in the early 2000s were older (by about four years) and weighed more — the average body mass index before pregnancy for the contemporary women was 24.9, while for women in the 1960s, it was 23. Also, in more than half of the deliveries in the early 2000s, women received epidurals, while 4 percent of women received them in the 1960s. Epidurals can increase labor time by about 40 to 90 minutes. To combat long delivery times, more doctors are administering the hormone oxytocin more frequently to speed up labor. They find that if oxytocin isn’t used in some cases, labor might take even longer. And in other cases, doctors are performing cesareans if labor doesn’t progress. C-sections are more common than they were 50 years ago too (12 percent in the early 2000s and 3 percent in the 1960s).

Other delivery practices that could be a factor in the change of delivery time are episiotomies and the use of forceps. In the 1960s, more doctors were more likely to perform these interventions.

How long did your labor take? Or if you haven’t given birth yet, are you nervous about spending a lot of time in labor?

PHOTO: Veer / The Bump