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7 Medical Breakthroughs for Women

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3. Less Painful Childbirth

Delivering a baby just got a little easier. A 2005 study found that giving women an epidural as soon as they asked for it -- rather than administering a narcotic shot for pain followed by an epidural later on -- helped both mother and child.

"Their labor was faster by about 80 minutes and they had better pain relief and less nausea. It also made no difference in the C-section rates, and the babies were more alert," says Cynthia A. Wong, MD, the study's lead author and an obstetric anesthesiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. While the researchers don't know why the effect was so dramatic, they believe that better pain control reduces a woman's anxiety, so her labor progresses more quickly.

Previously, women were often pressured to delay getting an epidural because doctors believed that taking the drug too soon (before the cervix had dilated to at least 4 or 5 centimeters) slowed contractions and led to caesarean sections. "Now there's no reason to deny the medicine early in labor," says Dr. Wong.

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