Purpose of review: Labor is among the most painful experiences that humans encounter. Neuraxial analgesia is the most effective means of treating this pain. In this review, we discussed the effect of neuraxial analgesia on the progress of labor when compared with parenteral opioids. We then compared initiation of analgesia with a combined spinal–epidural technique (CSE) to conventional epidural analgesia. Finally we discussed the impact of neuraxial analgesia, given early in labor, compared with later administration.
Recent findings: Compared with parenteral opioids, neuraxial analgesia does not increase the incidence of cesarean section, although it is associated with a longer (∼16 min) second stage of labor. The incidence of operative vaginal delivery is higher in the epidural group but this may be due to indirect reasons such as changes in physician behavior. There was no difference in labor outcome when CSE was compared with low-concentration epidural analgesia, but higher concentrations may prolong labor. Early administration of neuraxial analgesia does not increase the incidence of operative delivery or prolong labor.
Summary: Neuraxial analgesia does not interfere with the progress or outcome of labor. There is no need to withhold neuraxial analgesia until the active stage of labor.