Epidurals May Protect Mamas During Labor

There may be important health benefits to epidurals during labor, beyond the immediate benefit of pain relief.

New data show that epidurals may protect women’s muscles during labor. A British study of about 400 women showed that women how had an epidural during labor were less likely to experience organ prolapse after giving birth.

Muscle damage to the abdomen and pelvic floor affects a surprisingly large number of women; about 13% of those who’ve had a vaginal birth. Two thirds of the women who suffer this long-term muscle damage had no epidural, the British research team found.

All these medical terms are a little vague. Let’s be clear: an epidural might save you from a lifetime of peeing your pants a little when you laugh too hard.

Other side effects from damage to your pelvic muscles during labor can include sexual issues, constipation and pain. No fun.

I never thought I’d be writing a pro-epidural post. I’ve been a natural childbirth advocate for many years. I delivered a ten and a half pound baby without the benefit of so much as an aspirin.

I did have an epidural with my first child, though. Given the choice between an emergency C-section and a mega-dose of muscle relaxants to prevent tearing my swollen cervix, it was easy to say yes to the drugs.

Having done it both ways, I can say with surety that I preferred drug-free labor. It was great to know what was happening to my body, and to be alert and awake with my baby right after her birth. If I have another child, I think I’d risk the potential muscle damage this study investigated, and trust in my midwives’ skill to get me through it safely.

Epidurals get a bad rap, though. I’ve often had well-meaning crunchy mamas guilt-trip me for having one with my first baby, as if I was somehow a failure for needing medical care. They’re a tool like anything else, and no one should feel guilty for needing – or even just wanting – one.

Two-thirds of American women already choose epidurals. Does knowing about possible long-term health benefits sway you towards wanting one?

Photo: Jessica Pearson

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