Things to Know Before Thinking About an Epidural

Things to Know Before Thinking About an Epidural

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 body.

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 epidural.

How is the epidural administered?

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 surface area.

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 the baby?

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 administered.

Will there be any after effects?

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 epidural.

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 an epidural?

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 be varied
– The medicine has a localised effect
– You don’t lose consciousness during labour
– The cervical dilation is pain free
– 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 include:

– 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 becomes longer
– 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 happy baby.