Epidurals can reduce the risk of serious complications for mothers during childbirth, a study of more than half a million Britons found.

Those who had the pain relief had a smaller chance suffering everything from sepsis and heart attacks during and in the weeks following labour.

Making epidurals more available during labour could help to reverse the growing trend of maternal death and injury in the UK, the findings suggest.

Researchers studied 567,216 women who were in labour in Scottish NHS hospitals from 2007 and 2019, who gave birth vaginally or by an unplanned caesarean section.

Of these, 125,024 women had an epidural, which is administered through an anaesthetic injection in the back to block pain.

Those who had the pain relief had a smaller chance suffering everything from sepsis and heart attacks during and in the weeks following labour. Making epidurals more available during labour could help to reverse the growing trend of maternal death and injury in the UK, the findings suggest

Those who had the pain relief had a smaller chance suffering everything from sepsis and heart attacks during and in the weeks following labour. Making epidurals more available during labour could help to reverse the growing trend of maternal death and injury in the UK, the findings suggest 

The study — led by the University of Glasgow and the University of Bristol — found having an epidural cut the risk of potentially life-threatening conditions by 35 per cent.

They were also more effective in women who went into labour prematurely, or who had previous medical or obstetric conditions.

Researchers said their findings, published in The BMJ, suggest ‘expanding access to epidural analgesia for all women during labour, and particularly for those at greatest risk, could improve maternal health’.

Lead author Professor Rachel Kearns, of the University of Glasgow, said: ‘This finding underscores the need to ensure access to epidurals, particularly for those who are most vulnerable – women facing higher medical risks or delivering prematurely.

‘By broadening access and improving awareness, we can significantly reduce the risk of serious health outcomes and ensure safer childbirth experiences.’

It comes the week after a Parliamentary inquiry found maternity services in need of a radical shake-up, with women needlessly suffering life-long trauma after childbirth.

MPs heard mums-to-be are routinely mocked or ignored by doctors and midwives, who treat them as an ‘inconvenience’ and fob them off with inadequate pain relief.

It comes the week after a Parliamentary inquiry found maternity services in need of a radical shake-up, with women needlessly suffering life-long trauma after childbirth. MPs heard mums-to-be are routinely mocked or ignored by doctors and midwives, who treat them as an 'inconvenience' and fob them off with inadequate pain relief

It comes the week after a Parliamentary inquiry found maternity services in need of a radical shake-up, with women needlessly suffering life-long trauma after childbirth. MPs heard mums-to-be are routinely mocked or ignored by doctors and midwives, who treat them as an ‘inconvenience’ and fob them off with inadequate pain relief

Earlier this year, a report by Oxford-led MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries) showed women dying during childbirth at the same rates as two decades ago. Some 293 women died during pregnancy and within six weeks of giving birth between 2020 and 2022

Earlier this year, a report by Oxford-led MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries) showed women dying during childbirth at the same rates as two decades ago. Some 293 women died during pregnancy and within six weeks of giving birth between 2020 and 2022 

Earlier this year, a report by Oxford-led MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries) showed women dying during childbirth at the same rates as two decades ago.

Some 293 women died during pregnancy and within six weeks of giving birth between 2020 and 2022.

The latest research showed instances of severe complications during childbirth and in the six weeks afterwards almost doubled between 2009 and 2018 in the UK.

This was largely attributed to the rise in older mothers and obesity. While generally safe, epidurals carry a degree of risk and have reported side effects including headache, soreness, and a decrease in blood pressure which can sometimes affect the baby.

Professor Deborah Lawlor, of the University of Bristol, said women and their partners having control over their treatment during pregnancy was important.

She added: ‘It is also important that women who would benefit from an epidural to prevent them becoming seriously ill are provided with easy-to-understand information to help them make an informed decision.’

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