Having an epidural during labour may help protect muscles that can be damaged by having a baby, new research has found. A 10th of women who have a vaginal birth suffer damage to the “levator” muscles that hold up the internal organs and are responsible for incontinence if they become weakened.
The study of nearly 400 women found that trauma to the muscles was less likely for those who had the spinal analgesia or epidural, than for those who didn’t. Researchers suggested that this could be because women who have an epidural are told when to push as they can’t feel contractions. This lowers the risk of over-pushing or pushing prematurely and straining the muscles.
Epidurals are used by about a third of women in the UK and have had mixed press despite being found to be low risk and not connected to an increased need for a caesarean.
The study also found that the use of forceps increased the risk of muscle damage although their use has declined and they are now only used when essential.
“The finding that epidurals may provide a protective effect by reducing levator damage is reassuring,” said Professor Philip Steer, the editor of BJOG obstetrics journal.
If you’re considering your options for pain relief during birth, find out more about epidurals and what to expect.