Labor can be an extremely painful process for women and often times the best measure for pain relief is epidural anesthesia.
An epidural involves placing a catheter into the epidural space in the lower back, which then allows for administration of analgesic and anesthetic medications. Patients typically have loss of feeling in lower areas of the body, but still remain alert and able to have some sense of feeling as labor progresses.
A study showed that opioids injected into spinal cord (intrathecal opioids) vs systemic opioids found the first stage of labor to be 90 minutes shorter in women who received intrathecal rather than systemic opioids.
A clinical trial comparing epidural with no epidural analgesia in laboring patients found that patients with epidural had a longer second stage of labor (pushing stage), with a mean difference of 7.66 minutes.
Multiple trials and studies have shown that epidural analgesia at any stage during labor does not increase the risk of cesarean delivery.