Are you trying to weigh the pros and cons of whether an epidural is right for you and your baby during your birth experience? Like many women, you may be wondering what exactly is an epidural and what the pros and cons are with making a good decision for your birth experience. In this blog post, we are going to be covering those pros and cons so you can have a birth plan based on understanding the issues that an epidural brings to the birth space.
Empowerment Is Key In Pain Management
What makes your birth experience a positive one is not whether or not you’ve had an unmedicated vaginal birth or c-section birth. Whatever it looks like what makes your experience a positive one is whether or not you have made informed and empowering decisions. So when you are making the decision to get or not to get an epidural for your birth, the most important aspect is information. You need to make sure that you know all of the things that come with getting an epidural, so in this post, we are going to be talking about the benefits and risks or the pros and the cons of getting an epidural.
An important aspect of this is how to use your brain to make good decisions during the birth process.
Getting An Epidural Allows For Pain Relief
What is an epidural? Most women have a pretty basic understanding of what an epidural is. It goes into a woman’s spine and then she doesn’t have any of the sensations of birth or any of the painful sensations of birth. But we’re going to go into a little bit more of a technical rundown just so that you are a little bit more aware of what an epidural is.
An epidural is a type of anesthesia that blocks pain in a certain region of the body.
How Is An Epidural Done?
When the anesthesiologist comes in to give you an epidural (sometimes called an epidural block), they’re usually going to have you hug your knees so that your spinal area is nice and rounded and available in the area of your lower back so that they’re able to insert the epidural needle.
After they’ve inserted the needle into the lower part of your spine they’re going to thread in an epidural catheter. This catheter allows that anesthesia to be constantly feeding into that area so that it provides relief from the painful sensations of those contractions. The lower half of your body becomes numb from the anesthetic injection through the catheter.
That’s a rundown of what an epidural is and how it is administered so now let’s talk about the benefits and the risks of getting an epidural.
Benefits Of An Epidural
Effects Of Epidural: Eliminates Pain
The first and probably the most obvious benefit of getting an epidural is that it eliminates pain for the most part and so it can really help women have a positive birth experience if they are feeling like they’ve lost control and they feel like they are experiencing suffering then having this epidural that relieves them of this pain is going to leave them with a positive birth experience.
Epidural Anesthesia Proven Safe For Mother And Baby
Another pro if you choose to get an epidural, is that it has been proven safe for mom and baby which is a really big one when you are considering whether or not it’s right for you and your baby during this birth experience.
Epidural Medication Allows Mom To Remain Alert For Baby’s Birth
Another benefit of an epidural is that you are able to remain alert and present for your baby’s birth so sometimes with other medications you’re going to feel kind of dizzy or drowsy and kind of out of it for labor and delivery. With an epidural, you are able to be fully present and aware of what’s going on with the baby.
Epidural Drugs Allow Opportunity To Rest
Another benefit of epidural is that it provides you and your partner an opportunity to rest during labor. Labor can sometimes be a lengthy process and so sometimes it’s not so much the discomforts and the challenges of labor that are causing you to get an epidural but it’s just being tired and feeling like you can’t continue on with all that stamina required. Getting an epidural is going to allow you to rest. It’s going to allow your partner to rest so that when you awake from that you’re able to give it your all by getting the baby out of your womb and into this world.
Helps With Pain Management And Awareness If C-Section Required Later
The last benefit that I want to mention when it comes to getting an epidural is that when a situation arises where a c-section has to happen in order to keep you and your baby safe then an epidural is going to help provide pain management for that c-section.
Sometimes in a true emergency where mom and baby’s safety is time-sensitive and mom maybe doesn’t have an epidural already in place, it may result in having to put you under general anesthesia which means that you are going to have to be unconscious for the procedure which sometimes is difficult because then you weren’t really aware of a baby being born and then you’re not really with it after the baby is born.
In those cases where you know your safety and baby’s safety are time-sensitive having an epidural already in place is a huge benefit for you to be conscious while the baby is being born. Also as a form of pain management.
Cons Of An Epidural
It is important to mention that this list is a little bit longer than the pros and it is important to state that the pros or the benefits are really important and not to be downplayed in any way. Having a pretty much painless birth towards the end of labor is a huge thing. Having something set in place for an emergency c-section is a huge thing, so epidurals bring big positives to the table.
But they also bring a list of risks that are involved when an epidural is brought into a birth process.
Let’s go through the risks or the cons of getting an epidural for birth.
Epidurals Can Start An Intervention Cascade
When it comes to epidurals, they can tend to increase your risk of other interventions occurring. So one of the biggest risks is that you don’t always get the epidural by itself. In other words, after you have received an epidural, there are often a number of interventions that follow.
There are going to be things that follow that have to happen or take place because you have gotten that epidural. It may be that a procedure follows or maybe other medications or IV fluids follow on from the epidural.
Because you don’t have control over your bladder or peeing after receiving an epidural during birth, additional interventions may be necessary, such as placing a catheter in your bladder.
Since they need to keep an eye on how the baby is doing and reacting to those contractions, they will have to keep a constant fetal monitor monitoring on you. If you wanted intermittent monitoring, that will not be possible they will have these straps across your belly to keep an eye on you.
Labor May Slow Down
Sometimes an epidural will slow down your labor, so Pitocin may be needed to keep the contractions going. Depending on the amount of Pitocin given, your contractions may become stronger, and that’s going to require you to increase your epidural dosage.
So sometimes it’s like a staircase where you have an epidural, then you need some Pitocin, and then you need a little more epidural, and then you need some more Pitocin. Then they might be a need to lower your Pitocin a little bit, so it’s like a staircase that you’re going up.
A Drop In Blood Pressure Can Lead To More Interventions
Mothers often times will experience a drop in blood pressure after getting an epidural, so that means they will need oxygen and IV fluids in order to increase their blood volume, and they will need to keep a close eye on Mama’s blood pressure by having her monitored and taking her blood pressure through that cuff on her arm, and they will need to keep a close eye on the baby as well.
During this process, keeping an eye on the baby is important because when a mom’s blood pressure drops, it can affect the baby and slow down their heart rate.
Furthermore, they will want to give you oxygen at that time. IV fluids might also be given to you. The nurse will tell you to change positions so that the baby gets the optimal amount of oxygen to their brain into their body, so there is this cascade of interventions that take place if you get an epidural.
Fever Can Lead To More Interventions
An epidural can sometimes result in a fever, which is another downside. An epidural increases your chances of getting a fever five times. This is a risk factor when getting an epidural because they don’t know if the fever is from the epidural or from an infection in the amniotic fluid. Therefore, if they see that you have spiked a fever then they will administer antibiotics just in case. They won’t be able to tell if you have an infection or if the fever is from the epidural.
Managing Effect Of Numbness And Being Able To Push
An epidural has a lot of benefits, including painless labor, but this painless labor is also accompanied by numbness, which can work against you during delivery. Because of the numbness from the epidural, a woman who has an epidural and is trying to push the baby out of her vaginal birth canal and into the world will really need the support of her support system to help her know when to push.
Epidurals make it more difficult for a woman to listen to her body, so sometimes she’s not going to be pushing as effectively as she would with a contraction, or you’re going to be pushing too hard and not understanding when to hold back to let the baby fundus stretch those tissues, which can cause tearing and just cause irritation or swelling.
Pain Relief From Epidural Not Always As Expected
An epidural also has the disadvantage of not providing a 100 percent guarantee that it will work as promised. Women sometimes get epidurals that only work on one side or aren’t as strong as they need, so they have to deal with the discomforts of labor without having the mobility they’d like to have because they are confined to the bed by their epidural.
The next con is once you’ve gotten the epidural you are pretty much bound to your bed. While it can depend on the anesthesiologist and what they are able to do because sometimes they’re able to give you a lighter epidural so that you’re able to have a little more mobility on the bed.
But primarily they’re going to want you to stay in bed because you don’t have as good of control and function in your lower body and so they want you to be safe. This means the best place for you to be is in bed so since the epidural is pretty much going to have you spend most of your labor in bed.
This also means that you’re going to be most likely pushing on your back when it comes to that delivery stage of the birth process. Laying back is not an effective way to push babies working against gravity.
Less Than Optimal Birthing Position
When you’re doing that your pelvis is not as open as it could be in other positions and so when you’re laying on your back which you are pretty much forced to do when you have an epidural you are not birthing in an optimal position.
Possible Affects On The Baby
It is important to mention one last thing when weighing the benefits and risks of getting an epidural, and that’s how the pain medication passed through the placenta to the baby during and after birth. As mentioned earlier, epidurals are generally considered safe for moms and babies, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain side effects.
Heart Rate Drop
After receiving an epidural, Mama’s blood pressure sometimes drops, which can cause the baby’s heart rate to drop, which indicates that babies are under stress and maybe require a vacuum delivery or an emergency c-section because the baby might not be in a safe environment.
It can also occur that after the mom has an epidural, the baby ends up in a malposition because the mom is lying on her back or not moving much, and the baby isn’t as easily able to engage in the pelvis by moving around to get into the optimal birthing position.
Issues With Latching
Studies have shown that babies who have received epidurals have difficulty latching during the golden hour after birth. They’re often more drowsy or not quite aware and ready to latch with an epidural, which can lead to difficulty breastfeeding afterward.
An epidural can also cause respiratory problems in babies after birth, where they have a harder time breathing. Some of these problems are able to be solved very quickly and sometimes the baby will not show any of these difficulties or challenges after or during birth, but you should consider these risks when deciding whether or not an epidural is right for you.
We hope this blog post will give you a better understanding of how to weigh your options when it comes to getting an epidural. Ultimately, it is your choice to balance the benefits and risks of an epidural – always in the context of professional medical advice that is specific to your situation.
Having read this blog post may make you lean toward getting an epidural after weighing the benefits and risks and deciding the benefits definitely outweigh the risks for you.
At the end of the day, it is important that you feel empowered with the decision you are making, and that it is the right choice for you and your baby.
You may have read this blog post and thought I don’t want an epidural, but rather I want a natural, unmedicated birth, but you’re not sure how to manage labor and cope with labor challenges naturally. This site also has other blog posts about this approach, so be sure to check them out.
It is our hope that you have a better understanding of your birth choices and feel empowered to make the right decision.