The use of epidural, an analgesic used during childbirth, could reduce the risk of maternal complications post-childbirth, a study revealed.

According to the study published in the journal BMJ, epidural use substantially reduced the complications in mothers, medically referred to as severe maternal morbidity (SMM) in the first few weeks after giving birth. These complications include heart attack, heart failure, sepsis, and hysterectomy.

The benefit was particularly seen in those women who had a "medical indication" for epidural analgesia during labor and those who had a premature delivery.

"Having an epidural was associated with a 35% relative risk reduction in SMM in all women in the study. Greater reductions were seen among women with a medical indication for an epidural (50% risk reduction) compared to those without (33% risk reduction) and in women delivering preterm (47% risk reduction) compared to term or post-term (no evidence of reduced risk)," the news release stated.

The research team relied on data from 567,216 mothers who were part of the Scottish National Health Service data. The participants were those women who delivered vaginally or via unplanned cesarean section in Scotland between 2007 and 2019.

The occurrence of SMM was confirmed if participants experienced any of the 21 conditions defined as SMM by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or required critical care admission at any point from the date of delivery to 42 days postpartum.

The data showed that 22% of the women took epidurals during their labor and 4.3 cases of SMM occurred per 1000 births.

The researchers believe that the benefits of the epidural stem from closer monitoring of both mother and baby during labor, the blunting of physiological stress responses to labor, and the ability to quickly escalate to obstetric interventions if needed.

"The relatively low use of epidural, particularly in those with clinical indications may reflect women not fully understanding the potential benefits, as it is a woman's choice that determines whether or not she has an epidural," the news release stated.

"These findings substantiate the current practice of recommending epidural analgesia during labor to women with known risk factors, underscores the importance of ensuring equitable access to such treatment, and highlights the importance of supporting women from diverse backgrounds to be able to make informed decisions relating to epidural analgesia during labor," the researchers concluded.