Mom’s Fever from Epidural Increases Risk

Epidural related fever can hurt baby

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Are you a pregnant mom who’s planning to use an epidural to relieve the pain? A new study says that taking the painkiller can put your baby’s health at risk.

Researchers from different institutions associated with Harvard University studied how fever resulting from epidural impacts a pregnancy and delivery.

They found that moms whose temperature spiked more than 101 degrees F while receiving an epidural were more likely to have a baby who is weak, needs assistance breathing and has early-onset seizures.

"Pregnant women should talk with their doctor about an epidural."

In past studies, experts have noted that a woman’s temperature may rise after she’s been given an epidural during labor. The study authors say that the higher a woman’s temperature rises after given epidural, the greater the risk is to the baby.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Greenwell, previously from the Harvard School of Public Health and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Health, and colleagues tracked 3,209 first-time moms giving birth at Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2000. All of the women were at low risk for delivery problems.

The researchers report that the babies of these women were two to six times more likely to be ill.

However, there was no risk to babies if the mom’s fever was at or below 99.5 degrees F.

The team believes that high body temperature in the mother can hurt the baby because a baby’s core temperature in the womb runs at least 1 degree F above the mother’s. That means a feverish mom equals a feverish baby.

In the study, 87% of the women took epidural during labor. Of these women, 19% had a fever greater than 100.4%. Meanwhile, only 2.4% of non-epidural-receiving women developed a fever that high. Overall, 45% of the women who received an epidural had a body temperature of at least 99.5%, compared to 13.2% for women without an epidural.

Just eight of the babies developed early-onset seizures. But four of these babies were born to moms who had a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees F during delivery, which suggests a link between a higher maternal body temperature and early-onset seizures, according to the researchers.

This observational study was partially funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and published in the journal Pediatrics.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 31, 2012
Last Updated:
February 1, 2012