While some women choose to give birth without any pain medication, epidurals are given to many expectant mothers who understandably crave relief from the pain of delivery. However, a new study has determined that women who develop a fever after receiving an epidural may unintentionally transfer health risks to their newborns.
Epidurals, like other forms of anesthesia, are potentially dangerous drug combinations. A 2009 study previously linked administration of an epidural with an increased risk for fever in laboring women. The new study indicates that these fevers may cause an elevated risk for health problems in babies immediately post-delivery.
The study, which was published in this months' issue of "Pediatrics," suggests that there is direct correlation between the level of the fever and likelihood of problems. As the fever increases in temperature, so does the baby's risk of seizures, breathing issues and low Apgar scores.
The fever, and not the epidural, is the critical factor in this calculus. The study found no higher health risk for babies if the mother received an epidural but did not experience a fever. However, roughly one in five babies born to feverish mothers who received epidurals experienced health problems immediately following delivery.
This study is significant, given that four million American women give birth each year and more than six in 10 opt to receive epidurals during the process. Over 40 percent of these women developed mild to severe fevers after receiving epidurals. Women suffering through long labors, women giving birth to large babies and women who are generally older are at the greatest risk for developing these kinds of fevers.
Expecting women should educate themselves about the risks of pain medication before they go into labor. It can be difficult to make an informed choice once the contractions hit.
Source: U.S. News & World Report, "Epidural Plus Fever in Mom May Raise Risks for Baby," Jenifer Goodwin, Feb. 3, 2012