Epidural analgesia, intrapartum fever, and neonatal sepsis evaluation

Pediatrics. 1997 Mar;99(3):415-9. doi: 10.1542/peds.99.3.415.


Objective: Although several studies have documented an increase in maternal temperature associated with use of epidural analgesia during labor, none have investigated the impact of epidural use on the rate of intrapartum fever or the consequences for the fetus and newborn of this elevated maternal temperature. This study evaluates the impact of epidural analgesia use during labor on the rate of intrapartum fever and the performance of neonatal sepsis evaluations and treatment with antibiotics.

Methods: We studied 1657 nulliparous women with term pregnancies and singleton vertex fetuses who were afebrile at admission for delivery. The rates of maternal intrapartum fever >100.4 degrees F, neonatal sepsis evaluation, and neonatal antibiotic treatment according to use of epidural analgesia during labor were determined. Rate ratios and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated. Multiple logistic regression was used to examine associations while controlling for confounding factors.

Results: Intrapartum fever >100.4 degrees F occurred in 14.5% of women receiving an epidural but only 1.0% of women not receiving an epidural (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 14.5, 95% CI = 6.3, 33.2). Without epidural, the rate of fever remained low regardless of length of labor; with epidural, the rate of fever increased from 7% for labors < or = 6 hours to 36% for labors >18 hours. Neonates whose mothers received epidurals were more often evaluated for sepsis (34.0% vs 9.8%; adjusted OR = 4.3, 95% CI = 3.2, 5.9) and treated with antibiotics (15.4% vs 3.8%; adjusted OR = 3.9, 95% CI = 2.1, 6.1). Although 63% of women received epidurals, 96.2% of intrapartum fevers, 85.6% of neonatal sepsis evaluations, and 87.5% of neonatal antibiotic treatment occurred in the epidural group.

Conclusions: Use of epidural analgesia during labor is strongly associated with the occurrence of maternal intrapartum fever, neonatal sepsis evaluations, and neonatal antibiotic treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia, Epidural / adverse effects*
  • Analgesia, Obstetrical / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Fever / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Logistic Models
  • Obstetric Labor Complications / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Sepsis / diagnosis
  • Sepsis / drug therapy
  • Sepsis / etiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents