Early versus late epidural analgesia and risk of instrumental delivery in nulliparous women: a systematic review

BJOG. 2011 May;118(6):655-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2011.02906.x. Epub 2011 Mar 10.


Objective: Review of the literature regarding the relation between the timing of epidural analgesia and the rate of caesarean or instrumental vaginal deliveries.

Search strategy: Pubmed, Embase and the Cochrane Library were searched for articles published until 31 July 2010.

Selection criteria: Studies were selected in which the effects of early latent phase (defined as a cervical dilatation of 3 cm or less) epidural analgesia (including combined-spinal epidural) and late active phase epidural analgesia on the mode of delivery in nulliparous women at 36 weeks of gestation or more were evaluated.

Data collection and analysis: Data extraction was completed by using a data-extraction form. Risk ratio and its 95% confidence intervals were calculated for caesarean delivery and instrumental vaginal delivery. Pooled data were calculated.

Main results: The search retrieved 20 relevant articles, of which six fulfilled the selection criteria of inclusion. These six studies reported on 15,399 nulliparous women in spontaneous or induced labour with a request for analgesia. Risk of caesarean delivery (pooled risk ratio 1.02, 95% CI 0.96-1.08) or instrumental vaginal delivery (pooled risk ratio 0.96, 95% CI 0.89-1.05) was not significantly different between groups.

Authors' conclusions: This systematic review showed no increased risk of caesarean delivery or instrumental vaginal delivery for women receiving early epidural analgesia at cervical dilatation of 3 m or less in comparison with late epidural analgesia.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia, Epidural / adverse effects*
  • Analgesia, Obstetrical / adverse effects*
  • Cesarean Section / statistics & numerical data
  • Delivery, Obstetric / instrumentation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Obstetrical Forceps
  • Parity
  • Pregnancy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Time Factors