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How fast can you say ‘epidural’?

Good news for women in labor who want an epidural for pain relief—you can have it sooner rather than later. Laboring women are often asked to forgo an epidural until their cervix has dilated 4 to 5 centimeters because experts believed the anesthesia led to longer labors and more C-sections. Not so, says a report in The New England Journal of Medicine. In a trial of 750 first-time mothers, researchers found women who received epidurals at their first request for pain relief had fewer C-sections and shorter labors than did mothers who were given traditional pain medication to delay using an epidural. What’s more, babies born to moms receiving painkillers scored lower on neonatal tests that determine a newborn’s health.