Background. Clinical ambiguity concerning effects of epidural analgesia for pain relief in labour seems to reflect a need for evidence-based knowledge for midwives.
Aims. This study aimed to review, with a systematic approach, the literature about effects and risks associated with the use of epidural analgesia for pain relief in labour and childbirth.
Design. A structured question was formulated and used for deriving search terms, establishing the inclusion of certain criteria and retrieving articles, i.e. what are the effects of epidural analgesia for pain relief in labour and childbirth? References were obtained through searches using MeSH-terms in Medline and Subheadings (SH) in CINAHL (e.g. Obstetrical Analgesia combined either with psychology or adverse effects and together with, Dystocia, Caesarean Section, Infant Newborn and Breastfeeding). The articles were divided into prospective randomized trials (C), non-randomized prospective studies (P) and retrospective studies (R). Scientific quality of the studies was assessed on a three-grade scale: high scientific quality (I), moderate scientific quality (II) or low scientific quality (III).
Results. Twenty-four articles were retrieved and systematically assessed. Seven studies were judged as high quality, 15 as moderate quality and two as low quality. The majority of studies appraised in this review failed to obtain or establish a cause and effect relationship. According to the data, it seems clear that the use of epidural analgesia is considered to be an effective method of pain relief during labour and childbirth from the perspective of women giving birth.
Relevance to clinical practice. Midwives and doctors can recommend this form of pain relief. However, information about possible associations with adverse effects in mothers and infants must be provided to expectant couples.