Objective: To explore relationships between maternal epidural analgesia and two measures of neurobehavioral organization in infants at the initial feeding 1 hour after birth.
Design: Prospective comparative design.
Setting: Inner-city community hospital, Chicago, Illinois.
Participants: Convenience sample of 52 low-risk, mainly Black and Latino, mother/infant dyads.
Methods: Mothers self-selected to labor with epidural or no labor pain medication. Neonatal neurobehavioral organization was measured in term infants at the initial feeding 1 hour after birth. A nutritive sucking apparatus generated data on total number of sucks and sucking pressure. Video recordings of infants (before and after the initial feeding) were coded for behavioral states, with analysis on frequency of alertness.
Results: Total number of sucks and sucking pressure were not related to epidural exposure, although an epidural drug dosage effect on total number of sucks was evident when gender was a factor. Unmedicated girls demonstrated more sucks than girls in the high-dosage epidural group (p=.027). Overall, girls exhibited stronger sucking pressure than boys (p=.042). Frequency of alertness was not related to epidural exposure, although longer labor was related to greater alertness (p=.003), and Latino infants were more alert than Black infants (p=.002).
Conclusions: Results suggest attenuated neonatal nutritive sucking organization in girls after exposure to high maternal epidural dosages. In comparison to boys, girls may have enhanced neurobehavioral organization at birth. Race/ethnicity and alertness may have spurious associations in which hidden factors drive the relationship.