Childbirth is one of the most painful experiences in a woman’s life. It has been described as unbearable pain, that makes you want to curl into a ball. It is also known as the most wonderful type of pain, because you are about to meet the little love of your life. As a woman who has given birth, I can tell you that I would gladly go through that pain all over again to experience the euphoric and calming feeling you have when your little one is placed in your arms for the first time. There is really nothing more special.
Now, modern science has come a long way, and there are multiple forms of pain reliever out there at your disposal. One of the most common methods of pain relief when in the throes of childbirth is an epidural. It is used in most of the advanced world, and women everywhere swear by it. It makes labour more comfortable, and it allows the mom to get some much-needed rest before she must start pushing.
An epidural is a small catheter that is inserted into a woman’s spine. Through this, she receives medication that basically makes her numb from her stomach down. She will still be able to feel some pressure, which is helpful when knowing the right time to start pushing, but those awful contractions are gone. There are some downfalls to it as well, you usually can not eat anything, or get out of the bed and walk around. There are also some pretty big medical side effects.
Now, there are side effects with almost any medication you take. From Tylenol to Morphine, and it is important to know the potential risks that come with anything that is being put into your body. This is not meant as a scare tactic, as these side effects are rare, and are not guaranteed to affect you. In life, we all should be prepared, so we have 15 effects of an epidural after delivery that moms need to keep in mind. Just in case.
15 Loss Of Bladder Control
It is not just having a baby that makes you have less control on your bladder, the epidural can do that to you as well. During childbirth, it is very likely that you will have zero control over your bladder. This is why you will have a urinary catheter placed in to take care of this. The epidural numbs everything, including the nerves around your bladder, so you will not have a sensation when you have to pee.
This is another side effect that should not effect you too long after the baby has been delivered. The epidural takes time to wear off, so you may experience a loss of control for a short time after delivery. The nurses will constantly monitor you and will need to know when you have been able to go to the bathroom. Seems like a TMI, but it is so they know that you have regained control of your bladder and bowels, and that there are no complications.
14 Itchy Skin
The epidural itch is very common among women in labour. There is an ingredient in the medication that can cause your skin to be overwhelmingly itchy. This is true with all pain relief medications. Whenever you have a strong pain reliever in your system, there is always the chance that it will make you very itchy.
Report this to your nurse, as there are things they can do so that you do not have to be uncomfortable. They can give you an additional medication to stop the itching, or they can even change the drug in an epidural. There is nothing more uncomfortable than an itch that can not be scratched or that won’t go away. Luckily, since the itch is caused by the medication, once the medication wears off the itching usually stops. If it doesn’t, it should be reported to a medical professional immediately.
13 Worst Headache Ever
This is probably one of the more serious and common side effects from receiving an epidural during childbirth. When they are inserting the catheter into the spin it is very tricky business. If they accidentally puncture the bag of fluid that surrounds the spine, this can cause a severe headache. If you do end up with this severe headache, there are things you want to prepare for.
Usually, the headaches are easily treated. However, at times there is a more serious intervention that they need to do to give you some relief. They may need to do a procedure known as a blood patch. This involves taking a small sample of your blood and injecting it into the puncture. When the blood clots, the hole will be sealed and the headache will stop. Speak to your medical professional if you are worried about this symptom, or are experiencing any headaches.
12 Nerve Damage
Nerve damage sounds worse than it usually is. The important thing to remember is that the nerve damage is almost always temporary, meaning it will not last forever. The needle or the catheter tube itself can damage some nerves when it is being inserted. This is uncommon, but it can cause loss of feeling or movements in your lower body.
The most common sign of this is a small numb area with normal movement. So, you may feel like there is a small part that is numb, but you are still able to move and use the limb as normal. This normally clears up on its own after a few days, but be aware that it can last for months. It is always worth mentioning to your doctor if you experience this, unfortunately, they may not be able to do anything for you other than tell you to wait it out.
Whenever you open the body no matter how small, and insert a foreign object inside, there is always a risk of infections. It almost doesn’t need to be mentioned, it is that universally known. There is always a chance when you receive an epidural that you may encounter some from of infection. This infection will usually manifest around the skin right next to the tube.
While all infections should be taken seriously, this is an infection that is mild in nature. The biggest concern with an infection is it spreading to other parts of the body, or travelling through the blood stream. An infection caused by an epidural is very unlikely to spread. What normally will occur, is you will be placed on some antibiotics to clear it up. In a very rare situation, you may require emergency surgery. This is very rare, and does not happen very often.
10 Permanent Nerve Damage
We talked about temporary nerve damage from an epidural, which is not something to worry about. Unfortunately, permanent nerve damage is something that you should be aware of when it comes to getting an epidural. This can happen due to many reasons. It can be a result from direct damage from the needle, infection near the spinal cord, bleeding, or even inserting the wrong medication.
These are all generally human error when inserting the epidural, and not reflective of the actual procedure. With, this type of side effect is very rare. Anaesthetists are very well trained in inserting and epidural, so the chances of permanent nerve damage happening to you are very slim. They will warn you of the risks associated with the epidural, and have you sign a waiver as a way of protecting the hospital.
9 Extreme Nausea
Epidural is some pretty serious medication, and sometimes your body just does not agree with it. When you are in labour, chances are you have not eaten much, when a strong medication meets an empty stomach it can cause you to feel sick. This is because there is nothing in your system to absorb some of the medication.
The hospital staff will most likely give you some form of anti-nausea medication, like Gravol, to try and combat the nausea. The good news, is that this side effect normally does not last long, and it is very unlikely that you will suffer this after the epidural is removed. If you are still feeling nauseous in recovery, let the nurse know, she can probably give you some more Gravol so that you feel better!
There are always certain risks that are going to be more serious than others. There is a small risk of someone having convulsions after receiving an epidural. The medical definition of a convulsion is a sudden, violent, irregular movement of a limb or of the body. This is caused by contractions of the muscles for which the person has no control.
The reason that an epidural may cause a convulsion is because one of the causes of a convulsion is the presence of certain toxins entering the blood stream. Now, this is not something that is common, it is actually very rare. It is something to be aware of, but not overly worried about. I don’t think I need to advise you to seek immediate medical help if you find yourself with a convulsion. 911 is the first number you should be calling.
7 Slow Breathing
Being in the throes of labour can make anyone feel like they are short of breath, or that they have a hard time taking in breath. This is also a possible side effect of getting an epidural. It can make it difficult to breathe, or you may find yourself breathing slower than normal.
The good news is, when this happens, you are usually already in the hospital. There is no better place to be when you have a medical emergency. The nurses will be closely monitoring this for you, and if they feel the need, they will have oxygen available for you. It is important to speak up if you have any concerns regarding your breathing. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and to always err on the side of caution when it comes to your health.
It is commonly called the “epidural shakes”, and is experienced by a lot of women. It is an extremely common side effect for an epidural, and not something that really needs to be worried about. There is a reported number of about 70% of woman who receive an epidural for childbirth, and about half of those women reported feeling tremors or shakes while in labour.
These tremors are very common, and can make your teeth chatter and arms shake. It is almost like you are unbelievably cold, even though the room is a comfortably temperature. This side effect is temporary, and an easily be solved. Simply inform the nurse (if she can not see it for herself), and she will place more blankets on you, or even offer you a heated blanket. These will subside, but it is always good to be prepared.
When a woman has an epidural for 5 or more hours, it can result in an increase in body temperature for her and the baby. Most women do have the epidural for longer than 5 hours, as labours tend to last longer that that. The nurse will be monitoring your temperature to make sure that it is managed well.
A fever in labour, brings all the same symptoms a fever would to a woman not in labour. It can be quite serious and can even lead to some permanent damage if not controlled. The good news is that it is monitored closely and treated immediately if it happens while you are in the hospital. If, however, it occurs days after delivery and you are feeling otherwise fine, it is best to be seen by a doctor, and make sure that you tell them you recently had an epidural. Information will lead them to the best course of treatment.
4 Postpartum Hemorrhage
No one likes to think about all the blood loss that occurs during childbirth. It ranges from a normal amount, to one that can be quite serious, even life threatening. There have been many observational studies that show the link between epidural use and bleeding after birth.
A study done in the United Kingdom found that woman who received an epidural were two times as likely to have some postpartum hemorrhage. This could be caused by many things, including births using intervention, or perineal tearing. It could also be attained to the hormone disruptions that come with the use of an epidural. It may be scary, but it is a risk that all woman should be prepared for if they choose to have an epidural. This will of course be monitored post delivery, and it could be hard to measure what amount of blood is normal while recovering. If you feel weak, or that you are losing too much blood it is best to seek medical attention immediately.
3 Problems Breastfeeding
This is another little-known side effect of an epidural, and that is that there can be a problem with the breastfeeding. This is another side effect that comes with the decrease in the natural production of Oxytocin during epidural administration. Oxytocin is a hormone that plays a large part in the mother-baby bonding experience as well as the “letdown reflux” needed for successful breastfeeding.
A good hospital will have ample resources available for you when it comes to breastfeeding, so hopefully the lactation consultants will be able to assist you if you are having difficulty. Sometimes, mothers may not know there is an issue breastfeeding until a few days after they have returned home from the hospital. It is always a good idea to find a good breastfeeding clinic near you and attend a couple check-ups to make sure everything is going the way it should be.
Who would have thought that a side effect of the epidural could be anxiety? We have been looking at all the physical reactions that an epidural can cause, but we never thought to stop and think about what it can do to the mind. It can most definitely cause some anxiety and this is all because of those pesky hormones. The hormone Oxytocin is all about balancing our mood. When we are in labour, it is the hormone responsible for contractions, reducing anxiety and helps the bond with the baby.
With the introduction of an epidural, you are essentially blocking the natural release of Oxytocin. What can sometimes happen with an epidural, is that it can slow down labour. This means they may have to administer Pitocin or other drugs to speed up the process. All of this can really mess with a woman’s emotions. This should be temporary, but it is important for all moms to be aware of their moods and report any changes to their doctor.
1 Low Blood Pressure
There is always a chance that when you have an epidural you may experience low blood pressure. The good news is that while you are in the hospital, your blood pressure will be monitored by the nursing staff. If they need to intervene, they will most likely offer your fluid through your IV to keep your blood pressure stable. This is a side effect that does not normally last long, but it can make you feel pretty ill when it is happening.
Some symptoms that accompany low blood pressure are dizziness, unsteadiness, blurred vision, fatigue, nausea and pale skin. It is important to let a nurse know if you start to experience any of these symptoms. If you are a few days past delivery, and have returned home, it won’t hurt to give your doctor a call and explain the symptoms that you are experiencing.
Sources: webmd.com, draxe.com, nhs.uk, sarahbuckley.com
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