Birthing pains are no joke. Women who have already gone through it often speak of it like battle-hardened soldiers. First-time moms-to-be anticipate it with trepidation.
Fortunately, we live in a time where women have plenty of options when it comes to pain relief. Among the safest and most common pain relief methods is the epidural.
Now, epidurals do come with quite a few disadvantages. But they also come with a multitude of advantages as well. To help you out, here is a list of fifteen ways that an epidural can help you through birth.
15 A Backup Plan
Many women still view an all-natural, painkiller-free birth as the gold standard to avoid the risks and complications that come along with pain and anxiety medications, as well as surgery. However, it's important to keep in mind that childbirth doesn't always go as planned.
You may think you have a pretty good pain tolerance, or that you can handle whatever childbirth throws at you. But reality may just crush your expectations once you're on the delivery table. To be sure, it's important to have a backup plan so you know you have a fallback you can rely on just in case you need it! As far as backup plans go, epidurals are a pretty reliable option.
14 Effective Pain Relief
Epidurals are a pretty effective way of relieving pain. Most women find that getting epidural meds decrease their pain significantly. In some women, the pain almost completely disappears altogether.
You have the option of getting just an anesthetic, or a combination of anesthetic and a narcotic which has the advantage of you needing a lower dose of both than if you used one or the other. The latter is called a "walking" epidural because it does not numb your legs as much as pure anesthetic. However, do note that despite the name, most women are not able to walk after being given this sort of anesthesia although some are able to.
13 Preserve Feeling
Despite your inability to feel pain after an epidural, you will still be able to feel other sensations such as touch and pressure. However, your legs may feel heavy and clumsy as a side effect. This does, however, depend partially on the medications used.
Because at least some sensations are preserved, you are still able to feel some of the iconic experiences of motherhood such as that of your baby coming out. That way, you don't totally get to miss out on all that even if you do it painlessly!
12 Keeps You Awake
Unlike general anesthesia, an epidural allows you to stay awake and fully conscious during the entire process. This is because an epidural is technically a form of regional anesthesia. This means that it blocks the sensation of pain only in the nerves around and below where it is injected. This means that it affects pretty much only your hips and your legs. In the meantime, all the rest of you is awake and alert as ever.
The advantage of this is that you are fully aware and can even participate in your child's birth. After all, this is a big life event that you certainly want to see for yourself!
11 Adjustable Dose
Unlike most childbirth painkillers, the dose of medication in your epidural is adjustable. If you're not feeling adequate pain relief, you can ask the anesthesiologist to increase the dose. Some hospitals offering patient-controlled analgesia systems even allow you to adjust the dose yourself within safe limits.
This means that as long you're able to bear most of the pain, you can opt for lower dosages, increasing it only as needed. This way, you are significantly able to limit the amount of anesthesia being pumped into you.
10 You’re Less Tired
It's a fact that pain is exhausting. Even if you've only been in labor for an hour, it can feel like forever if the pain is particularly bad. In some mothers, it can even be draining. Yet other mothers get so exhausted by the pain that they are no longer able to push effectively.
Because of this, getting epidural pain relief, whether as your primary pain relief or as a backup, could be a lifesaver when you’re in the delivery room.
9 You’re Less Irritable
Pain does make people irritable. After all, you’re more likely to get impatient and less likely to control your temper when you’re not in the best of moods. Because of this, even the most patient of women end up snapping at their partner or at the hospital staff during childbirth.
Of course, most people there who have witnessed many a childbirth are likely to expect that. And they’re sure to count that you’ll get back to your normal perhaps slightly more patient self when it’s all over. Nevertheless, being less irritable can make the process less stressful on everyone involved – including you!
8 No to Hyperventilation
One of the major risks when you’re in a lot of pain is hyperventilation. Hyperventilation, or breathing way too fast, is actually one of the body’s responses to stress. When you’re stressed out, as when you are in pain, your heart is going to beat faster and you’re going to get tense in order to prepare you to either fight or flee. Because of this, your body will naturally need more oxygen to generate that sort of energy.
However, your breathing can become so fast that you’re exhaling too much carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is often treated as a waste product but it’s actually important in maintaining the acid-base balance of your blood. When this balance is affected, you may experience tingling, blurred vision and, if it is not corrected immediately, fainting. Pain relief can help decrease the risk of hyperventilation during childbirth.
7 Longer Use
Unlike spinal anesthesia, epidurals can be used for a longer time. Many people confuse spinals with epidurals because they’re both injected in pretty much the same area. Spinal anesthesia, however, is more straightforward: the anesthesiologist simply uses a syringe to inject medication and it’s done. With epidural anesthesia, however, she actually inserts a catheter into the epidural space of your spine. Through this catheter, anesthetic can be injected at intervals as needed.
This is more practical than even painkillers taken by mouth, as childbirth may reach a point where it’s risky to swallow anything. When the effect wears away, it may be difficult to take another dose. With epidurals, however, this is not a problem as the catheter remains in place for the duration of childbirth.
6 In Case of C-Section
In case something goes wrong during childbirth and you need an emergency C-section, an epidural can be used as anesthesia throughout the surgery. This makes the transition faster and seamless, which is probably something you’d like in cases where immediate action can make the difference between life and death.
This is far preferable to general anesthesia, the usual choice for emergency C-sections, as it allows you to be wide awake when your baby comes out.
5 For Late Decisions
Say you’ve decided to have a completely natural birth and you actually do well for the first few hours. However, quite late into the labor, you feel like you can’t handle the pain anymore. Unless your baby is crowning (i.e. her head is pressing against the hole of your vagina), it’s usually not too late to get an epidural. Pretty much the only thing that needs to be done is to get an anesthesiologist, lie on your side and have the catheter inserted.
This makes it an ideal backup plan or, if you hadn’t had any pain relief planned, a reliable go-to method when you’re in the midst of those birthing pains.
4 For Rest
Early in labor, when you probably won’t need to do a lot of pushing yet, the contractions may be so uncomfortable that you cannot rest nor sleep. This can be a bit problematic since you’re likely going to need plenty of rest for the effort you’ll need to give later, when the labor is at its later stages. Getting a small dose of anesthetic via the epidural may allow you a few minutes of well-needed shuteye while you’re waiting for your cervix to dilate. In the meantime, the hospital staff will probably check every so often if you’re ready for the delivery room table already.
3 Helps You Focus
When you’re overwhelmed by birthing pains, an epidural could be just the thing to help you focus on just pushing. Pain can, after all, be a distraction from what you need to do. Some women, first-time moms in particular, even find it difficult to push during a contraction since they perceive that this is going to make it even more painful.
If you feel like you’re losing that much-needed focus to get you back on track, you may find that an epidural can be helpful.
2 Gives You Motivation
Another perk of not being able to feel a whole lot of pain is that it allows you to direct your attention to the biggest motivation to all the pushing you’re doing right now: your baby. After nine months of carrying her in your womb, we’re willing to bet that you’re looking forward to finally meeting her in the outside world! With this thought in mind and all distractions out of the way, you’ll have far more will power to just bear down and get on with it!
1 Post-Delivery Bonding
Of course, one of the things you’re likely to look forward to is bonding with your baby after delivery! This includes breastfeeding her immediately. With a cesarean section, you may not be able to have this pleasure. Even if you’re not groggy from the anesthesia afterwards, with closing your wound and getting it to heal, it may be tough to get a bit of time off with baby.
Mothers who have natural deliveries have this pleasure. However, if a mom has gotten exhausted from the pain and effort, she may want to rest for a while afterwards. With an epidural you’re likely to be less tired and may therefore have more time and energy for baby directly after childbirth.