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Many doctors today put laboring women on the clock, "threatening" to give them a cesarean section if they don't give birth within 24 hours of starting labor. But they may have to rethink their idea of how long natural labor should take. According to a new US study, women today actually spend longer in labor than their counterparts in the 1960s!

The study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. It found that today's mothers are older, weigh more, and give birth to heavier babies. Today's first-time moms spend 2.6 hours more having contractions, on average, then mothers in 1960s. Women who had already given birth before "only" labored two hours longer.

The findings were based on an analysis of two previous studies. The first took place between 1959 and 1966,and included around 39,500 women who went into labor at full term. And the second study monitored 98,000 women who also gave birth to a full-term baby between 2002 and 2008.

All labors started naturally, so were not induced but were augmented after labor commenced in some cases.The study also looked at epidural rates, and unsurprisingly found that they had gone up. In the '60s, four percent of women had epidural anesthesia. Today, it's a whopping 55 percent! Twelve percent had a c-section, while only three percent in the '60 delivered their baby in this way. And around a third of all the contemporary women in the study had their labor augmented with Pitocin, but only 12 percent of their predecessors from half a century back did.

The study authors said that their research showed there is a need to rethink what "normal" means during labor. Guidelines on when to pursue medical interventions of a woman's cervix doesn't dilate within two hours come from the 1960s. Lead author Katherine Laughon said: "I think we need to revisit the definitions of 'abnormal' labor, and the timing of the interventions we use."

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