While this is the most popular and common pain relief during childbirth, with over 50% of women choosing to have one, there are many things that you should know about epidurals before opting to go down this pathway.
It goes without saying that childbirth is going to
be a painful experience. After all, the past 9 months of gestation and growing
a baby has taken an emotional and physical toll on the body. Then actually
getting the baby out of the body involves a lot of physical strain and mental
effort as well.
In some cases, labour and delivery of babies can
take up to 30 hours! Of course, this doesn’t happen for everyone. However, the
average time of labour is between 8-12 hours. This is because the cervix needs
a lot of time to fully dilate and generally speaking it dilates one centimetre
every hour. Keep in mind that the cervix needs to dilate to 10 centimetres
before delivery can begin!
So given the physical pain that labour causes, many
women opt for an epidural during delivery. This is a regional anaesthetic that
blocks pain in a particular area. Basically, it blocks the nerve endings in the
lower spine so that you don’t feel as much sensation in the lower half of your
While this is the most popular and common pain
relief during childbirth, with over 50% of women choosing to have one, there
are many things that you should know about epidurals before opting to go down
this pathway. It might sound like it is just right for you, or maybe not.
Either way, having some information is the best way to know what will happen to
your body with an epidural while giving birth.
Get informed with some of these facts about an
How is the epidural
An epidural is put into the body through a needle.
About an hour or two before the epidural, you will get active IV (intravenous)
fluids with about 1-2 litres going into the body during labour and delivery.
Then, once you are comfortably lying on your left side with your back arching
up, an antiseptic solution will be wiped along your waistline to disinfect the
Then, using a small needle, the doctor will numb the
area with a local anaesthetic. Finally, the epidural needle will be given. This
is a larger size needle that is inserted around the spinal cord in the lower
back. Thankfully, the area is numbed by now and you’re facing away so you can’t
see the size of the needle going in!
Does it have any effect on
Generally speaking, epidurals don’t have any
negative effect on how the baby is born. There is occasionally an increased
risk of the duration of the pushing stage of delivery been increased. This is
because the epidural can slow down your pushing reactions and instinct since
the pain is numbed.
The health of the baby is hardly affected by this.
In fact, there are no findings in babies’ APGAR scores when born with an
epidural to indicate there are problems. Epidurals are generally safe, unless
there are other underlying medical conditions to be aware of. These will have
been discussed with your doctor during prenatal check ups before an epidural is
Will there be any after
Most women come away from an epidural feeling just
like they would after going through any physical trauma that requires an
anaesthetic. Labour and delivery are physically tiring and very draining on the
body. For this reason, you will feel the after effects of this more that the
In some cases, women have experienced a tingling
sensation or weakness in their upper and lower legs. This can be much likened
to the feeling of ‘pins and needles’ when you lose sensation in your foot.
Therefore, walking around and being too active after an epidural isn’t
recommended. Either way, you will appreciate the bed rest after giving birth!
When is the best time to
have an epidural?
Typically doctors will want to administer the
epidural when you start active labour. This is pretty much the time when you
feel the most pain from contractions, dilation is well under way, and you start
breaking out in sweats. If an epidural is given before active labour starts,
there is a chance that it can slow down the contractions which makes labour
take even longer.
However, medically speaking, it is never too late to
get an epidural. If there is an absolute need for pain relief, the epidural can
be given any time before the baby’s head starts crowning. Of course, doctors
would rather give it before active labour so that the contractions aren’t too
close together and there is less risk.
What are the advantages to
Given that over half of women who give birth choose
to have an epidural, there must be some known benefits. There certainly are.
Some of these include:
-Effective pain relief
-The amount and strength can
-The medicine has a localised
-You don’t lose consciousness
-The cervical dilation is
-Only a tiny amount of the
medicine reaches the baby
Are there any disadvantages?
Something that sounds as magical as an epidural must
come with a catch, right? While in most cases an epidural is safe and pain
free, there can be some disadvantages. It isn’t all sunshine and roses!
For instance, some disadvantages of an epidural
-Staying in an awkward
position for 10 minutes while the epidural is administered
-Potential loss of sensation
in the legs
-More tubes and monitoring
for IV fluids and blood pressure
-The pushing stage of labour
-Increased chance of a vacuum
or forceps delivery
-Necessary to have an
uncomfortable catheter in place
Now that you know some more basics about an
epidural, you can make a more informed decision if you need it. Of course, make
sure you have in depth conversations and discussions with your doctor to ensure
that an epidural is the right path for you.
Always consider looking into other natural birthing
pain relief methods, such as a water birth or breathing exercises to do.
However, if having an epidural will make the delivery experience less anxious
for you, it is worthwhile. The end goal, after all, is to deliver a healthy and
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