According to the American Pregnancy Association, epidurals are the most popular form of pain relief during labor and delivery.  And they may just get more popular now that doctors and hospitals are looking into patient-controlled epidural devices that allow women to control their medication dosage - and use less medication in the process.

In a recent study conducted by Dr. Michael Haydon, a perinatologist at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in California, researchers found that women who were able to control the amount of anesthesia they were given in their epidurals were as comfortable as women on a continuous dose, while using 30 percent less medication.

For the study,  Haydon and his team recruited 270 women who were pregnant for the first time. They were randomly selected for one of three groups: the standard "continuous-dose" epidural; a continuous infusion with an additional patient-controlled option; and patient-controlled anesthesia only.  For the patient controlled options, patients are given a button to push when they feel they need more medication. (The devices were programmed to ensure that the women couldn't give themselves too much.)

Researchers found that the first group used an average of 74.9 mg of anesthesia during labor, compared to 95.9 mg for the second group, and 52.8 mg for the patient-controlled group.  The study found no major differences across the group in the time of labor, or the rate of Cesarean deliveries.  They also found that there were fewer deliveries that required instrument assistance, such as forceps or vacuum extractors, in the patient-controlled group.

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