Epidural, Fever may Raise Risks for Babies

Epidural, Fever may Raise Risks for BabiesBabies born to mothers who develop an epidural-related fever during labor could be at a higher risk of birth complications, including poor muscle tone, breathing difficulties, seizures and low Apgar scores, a new study claims.

The Apgar score, according to the National Library of Medicine, is a quick test that is performed on a baby the first minute after birth and again five minutes after birth, and measures breathing effort, heart rate, reflexes, skin color and other post-birth functions.

Epidural – or anesthesia delivered near the spinal cord – has been linked to fevers in earlier studies. The most recent study, which involved more than 3,200 mothers who delivered at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in 2000, showed similar results, HealthDay reports.

Nearly 20 percent of those who had an epidural during childbirth developed a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to 2.4 percent of women who developed such a fever without the analgesic.

Also noted was that as a women's fever increased, so did the likelihood her baby would experience birth problems.

About 11 percent of babies whose mothers had normal temperatures at birth had low muscle tone lasting 15 minutes after birth, compared to the 25 percent of babies who had the same condition born from mothers with a fever of 101 degrees or higher.

About 4.4 percent of babies born to mothers with normal a temperature needed resuscitation for various reasons, which necessitated breathing assistance and chest compressions, compared to more than 12 percent of babies whose mothers had 101-degree fever.

"It's clear that from our data that about 20 percent of the term infants born to mothers who received epidurals experienced one or more adverse outcomes after birth," said study author Elizabeth Greenwell, a doctoral candidate at Harvard School of Public Health when she did the research.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, epidural anesthesia is the most prevalent form of pain relief during labor in the country. Each year, more than 50 percent of women who give birth opt to receive an epidural.

Possible complications of an epidural include a sudden drop in blood pressure, suggesting any woman who chooses the method of pain relief should have her blood pressure monitored closely. Other potential complications include severe headache, shivering and nausea.