Importance: Quantification of potential consequences associated with the use of epidural analgesia during labor could help to improve the safety and quality of labor and delivery care for parturient women.
Objective: To evaluate the association between epidural analgesia use during labor and neonatal infection in a large cohort of parturient women.
Design, setting, and participants: This propensity score-matched cohort study was conducted at a university-affiliated hospital in Shanghai, China. Women at full-term pregnancy undergoing vaginal delivery between January 2013 and October 2018 were included in the study. Parturient women who were parous, experiencing premature delivery (gestational age <37 weeks), were pregnant with more than 1 fetus, or had experienced a stillbirth were excluded. Data were analyzed from October 2019 to June 2020.
Exposures: The use of epidural analgesia during labor.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was the incidence of neonatal infection, including neonatal sepsis, neonatal uncharacterized infection, neonatal pneumonia, and neonatal necrotizing enterocolitis reported in the medical record. Secondary outcomes included the incidence of maternal intrapartum fever and histologic chorioamnionitis.
Results: Among 37 786 parturient women included (mean [SD] age, 29.5 [3.0] years), 19 968 (52.8%) received epidural analgesia during labor. In the propensity score-matched cohort (including 15 401 parturient women in each group), use of epidural analgesia was associated with a higher incidence of neonatal infection (absolute risk difference, 2.6%, 95% CI, 2.2%-3.0%; relative risk [RR], 2.43; 95% CI, 2.11-2.78), including higher incidence of sepsis (absolute risk difference, 0.1%, 95% CI, 0.1%-0.2%; RR, 3.50; 95% CI, 1.73-7.07) and uncharacterized infection (absolute risk difference, 2.2%, 95% CI, 1.9% to 2.6%; RR, 2.69; 95% CI, 2.30-3.15), compared with no epidural analgesia use. Use of epidural analgesia was also associated with greater incidence of maternal intrapartum fever (RR, 4.12; 95% CI, 3.78-4.50) and histologic chorioamnionitis (RR, 4.08; 95% CI, 3.59-4.64) compared with no epidural analgesia use.
Conclusions and relevance: This cohort study found that use of epidural analgesia in full-term nulliparous women undergoing vaginal delivery was associated with an increased risk of neonatal infection, pending further investigation. These findings support efforts to further improve safety and quality of labor and delivery care for parturient women.