The decision over whether or not to get an epidural during childbirth is a deeply personal one. But for anyone out there who’s ever second-guessed getting one, or is currently weighing the pros and cons now, here’s a new one to add to the list of benefits (besides the whole pain relief thing): Getting an epidural may actually decrease your odds of postpartum depression later, according to new research.
The preliminary study, presented at the Anesthesiology 2016 annual meeting in Chicago, determined that labor pain is a significant risk factor for postpartum depression symptoms — meaning that by simply alleviating the pain, you could help lower your risk of PPD.
Surprised? So was I.
“Labor pain matters more than just for [the] birth experience. It may be psychologically harmful for some women and play a significant role in the development of postpartum depression,” said Grace Lim, director of Obstetric anesthesiology at Magee Women’s Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and lead investigator on the study.
After controlling for factors known to increase the risk of postpartum depression (like pre-existing depressions and anxiety), researchers reviewed the medical records of 201 women who used epidurals and had their pain accessed on a 1-10 scale during labor. They then calculated the percent improvement in pain throughout labor after the epidural was administered. Depression risk was assessed using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) — a 10-item questionnaire used by doctors in outpatient settings — six weeks after childbirth.
According to the study, the team of researchers found the higher the percent improvement in pain scored, the lower the EPDS scores. In other words, some women who experienced good pain relief from an epidural were found to be less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms after childbirth.
Of course, more work still needs to be done to establish whether epidurals actually guarantee the avoidance of postpartum depression altogether, and to help identify which women would benefit the most from labor pain-control. But one thing’s for sure: These findings can at least help bolster the decisions of moms-to-be who are currently planning on one — and alleviate any guilt some of us who had one may still be battling.
At least, I know it does for me.
When I told people that I was planning to get an epidural with my first baby, plenty of unsolicited comments were immediately thrown my way. I was told that getting an epidural is the easy “way out” or that it “wasn’t the natural way to have a baby.” Another woman scared the crap out of me when she claimed that an epidural essentially drugs the baby and may cause my child to be groggy and make it difficult for her to nurse.
These comments (and so many others) not only made me concerned for the health of my daughter, but also left me feeling unfairly judged, like I was selfishly putting my own interests before my child’s. Although I knew for certain that I wanted an epidural, there was also a part of me that hoped my adrenaline would kick in and I’d somehow push through labor without the need for any medication.
I eventually did end up getting an epidural, which helped ease the pain and discomfort from the contractions that literally took my breath away. I held off as long as possible, but as my labor progressed, so did my anxiety, which in turn led to me worrying that the pain I was feeling may be a sign that the baby was in distress (she wasn’t), or that my body just wasn’t equipped for childbirth (it totally was). In the end, I did what was best for me and asked for an epidural, which not only allowed me to relax, but gave my body a chance to prepare for labor and helped tame my anxiety.
Looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And if this latest study is any indication, my choice to have an epidural may have been one of the smartest decisions I could have made. Not only was I taking care of myself, but I was also laying the groundwork for a better postpartum experience for me and my daughter. And at the end of the day, that means everything.