Epidurals: A Risk Vs. Benefit AnalysisMonica Bielanko
I’ve made no bones about it. I have absolutely no desire to give birth without an epidural. None! I’m mildly curious about the pain but that mild curiosity turned into absolute disinterest when I dilated to about a three.
My nurse had asked me if I wanted an epidural when I was moaning and groaning from the contractions and I said, Yeah, in a bit. I want to see how far I can go. She smiled sweetly – as if to say Oh, you’re one of those – and told me to push the nurse button when I was ready for my epidural.
I was hammering that button ten minutes later.
And boy was I glad I did. By the time the anesthesiologist got there I was more than ready.
It’s estimated that somewhere between 70-90% of women laboring in U.S. hospitals opt for an epidural. As Babble’s Ceridwen Morris recently wrote in 12 Things To Know About An Epidural, it blocks the transmission of signals through nerves in or near the spinal cord with a combination of anesthesia (which numbs the lower part of the body) and narcotics (which change the perception of pain).
I read Morris’ information with great interest. I had recently watched an episode of One Born Every Minute in which a woman’s epidural only numbs half her body. That became my great fear going into labor.
- It can decrease the chances of a C-section – If a woman is tired from laboring for hours and hours, the relaxation an epidural provides might help her cross the finish line, especially if she received the epidural after dilating to 5 centimeters.
- Conversely, studies have shown that an epidural given early in labor — before a woman has dilated 5 centimeters — can sometimes slow down labor and lead to an increased likelihood of medical interventions such as a C-section.
- The most common side effects from an epidural are nausea, itching and shaking. Most women also experience some temporary postpartum numbness and discomfort at the site of the injection. The most I felt was itching and, of course, some numbness after delivery but that went away within a couple hours.
- The window for getting your epidural depends on where you get one. I had watched so many episodes of A Baby Story on TLC that I thought I had to get an epidural before dilating to a certain point. But that wasn’t the case at the hospital where I delivered. As Morris says, “In some major hospitals, women can get epidurals pretty much whenever they want, (from very early labor to transition) but anesthesiologists are not always available at a moment’s notice. Also, your care-provider may have specific ideas about whether it’s too soon or late for anesthesia.”
For some women the risks outweigh the benefits but for me, enjoying the entire labor and deliver – really being relaxed and present in the moment – and not writhing in massive pain were a major priority for me so I chose to get an epidural.
Whether you’re planning on getting an epidural or not, it’s important to know your options. Getting an epidural is completely your choice and only you know what is right for you, your body and your baby.