Most doctors encourage first time mothers-to-be in labor to wait until the cervix has reached four to five centimeters before getting an epidural. That's the injection in the space near the spine that takes away the pain from the waist down.
It's long been thought that an epidural too early can increase the chance the woman will end up needing a c-section. Now, a study of 750 women puts that theory to rest, finding no evidence of that. In fact, the study in the New England Journal of Medicine reassures women that it's okay to get that pain relief even in the early hours of labor.
"The pain relief was definitely much better, they had less nausea and vomiting and their babies were born with higher one minute apgar scores, so there didn't appear to be any downside," says Cynthia Wong, lead author.
Researchers say they hope these findings will help laboring women feel more comfortable about asking for pain relief early. Because pain is pain no matter how far apart the contractions are.
Researchers say previous studies linking early epidural to an increased risk of c-section may be explained by other factors like a bigger baby, which can cause early labor pain and increase the risk of c-section. The study was conducted at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.