There’s no shortage of opinions when people start discussing pregnancy, labor, and childbirth. People can be pretty quick to share those opinions regardless of how well they know the mom-to-be and whether or not they have kids. One subject that can really get people riled up? Whether or not a woman should have a medicated labor and delivery.
There are those women that feel like the doctor knows best and choose to have a medicated birth. Today, we have tons of advances in science and medicine; so wouldn’t it would be irresponsible to have a baby anywhere other than a hospital? Having a baby in a hospital includes taking advantage of all of the services the hospital setting has to offer – which means having medication on hand to alleviate the pain associated with childbirth.
Then there are those women who aim to have an unmedicated birth, with plans to avoid an epidural at all costs. For one thing, the needle is pretty big, so maybe they’re just scared of needles. Or maybe they’re concerned about the risks involved with getting an epidural. Maybe they’d rather be able to get up and move around during labor, prioritizing physical freedom and other pain management methods over medication. Maybe they just don’t want to give birth in a hospital and would prefer to have the baby at home.
We’re always quick to say things like “To each his own!” and “It’s your choice!” but when we say that, we have to say it without being condescending or judgmental. Unfortunately, there is some stigma for women who choose to have an epidural. Whether or not she gets an epidural, a woman is still accomplishing something amazing when she delivers a baby. Here are several reasons why there’s no shame in getting an epidural.
15 It’s Not “Unnatural”
If a woman chooses to have a vaginal delivery without pain meds, it’s often referred to as a “natural” delivery. Giving birth is one of the most natural things in the world, so does that make bringing a baby into the world through a vaginal delivery with pain meds (or a C-section) “unnatural”?
Is there even really such a thing as a “natural” pregnancy or birth today? Rather than leaving things up to nature, there are things a couple can do to increase their chances of conceiving. We know there are preventative measures a woman can take to make sure her body is healthy and prepared to take on the job of carrying a developing human. A woman can take hormones, fertility treatments, and prenatal vitamins to help her conceive and carry a healthy baby. These aren’t necessarily “natural” but would we shame a woman who desperately wants to have a baby and chooses another round of IVF? Would we look down our noses at a woman for taking a folic acid supplement while she’s pregnant? No… So people shouldn’t shame a woman for choosing to lessen the pain of childbirth with an epidural.
14 No Pain, No Shame!
The female body is built to carry and birth a baby. Childbirth is a normal and natural function of the human body. And yeah, it hurts. The pain of childbirth is also normal. Many women expect it and fear it. Some women may put off the decision to have a baby because they’re worried about the pain. Some women may have their mind made up to request an epidural long before they go into labor. Some may choose to labor without pain medication to see how it feels and if they can do it, and then decide to ask for an epidural when they can’t take it any longer. There’s no shame in that.
The sensation of pain causes hormones to be released into the blood. This release of hormones can increase your heart rate. Hyperventilating from the pain you’re experiencing can divert blood away from the placenta, which is where your baby gets oxygen. Epidurals block the pain, and therefore block these side effects.
13 Safe And Effective
Some moms want to steer clear of epidurals because of the big needle involved. Others are more concerned with the risks involved. No medical procedure comes without any risk, but epidurals are one of the safest and most effective ways to manage pain during labor and delivery.
The most common side effect from an epidural is a drop in blood pressure, but hospitals are prepared for this; some hospitals may try to prevent this drop by administering IV fluids prior to epidural insertion. Some women may experience headaches as a result, as well.
More serious risks may include the use of forceps or a vacuum to facilitate the delivery of the baby. Some women may end up needing an emergency C-section due to complications. However, these events can also happen without an epidural.
It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons or the risks and benefits of any medical intervention or procedure and decide what method is best for you.
12 "Push It... Push It Real Good!"
An epidural is supposed to block the pain associated with uterine contractions. Your legs may feel weak and even numb, but you should still be able to move them and push effectively when the time comes. You shouldn’t feel painful contractions, but you should be able to sense pressure during a contraction. That’s how you know it’s time to push.
Epidural dosage can be adjusted to provide more or less sensation. By using patient-controlled epidural analgesia, a woman can press a button to give herself a dose of epidural medication, which allows her to self-regulate the amount of pain relief she receives. If the epidural is decreased, you’ll obviously feel more discomfort. The only time an epidural should render someone completely numb and immobile is if the patient is being prepped for a C-section.
Some hospitals offer a “walking” epidural which allows you to move around during labor. Walking can take your mind off labor, can coax the baby to move lower into the birth canal, and can keep you from being stuck in the same position during labor. However, many hospitals require you to stay in bed once the epidural has been administered. Ask your doctor about the options at the hospital where you will be delivering.
11 Can Help You Focus
Some women feel that the relief provided from an epidural helps better prepare them for labor and delivery, especially if they’ve been laboring for a long time and the process has been moving slowly. An epidural can provide a woman with a chance to recover and gather her strength for the rest of the birth process. After an epidural, some women are even able to get comfortable, relax, and sleep for awhile – a good way to store up some energy for the physical demands of childbirth.
Without feeling the intense pain of each contraction, many women feel that they are better able to focus on the actual process of labor and childbirth. While the pain stems from uterine contractions, which are a necessary to move the baby through the birth canal and out into the world, it can distract a woman from staying calm and focusing on her breathing and pushing.
10 Might Actually Help Things Go Faster
It’s widely believed that epidurals can slow down labor. It’s true, an epidural might lengthen your labor a little bit. Even if it does, many women may feel relieved that things have slowed down a little. It gives them a chance to focus on what’s happening and process where they are in labor.
There are some doctors who believe that having an epidural can actually speed things up. When a woman has been laboring for a long time and is feeling exhausted and tense, her body naturally tenses up in anticipation of the pain of another contraction. When she receives pain relief, her body relaxes, which can allow the cervix to dilate faster, which then ends up speeding up the rest of the labor process. Some studies have shown that when given in the early phase of labor, epidurals can speed up dilation. Other studies have shown that the timing of the epidural doesn’t really make any difference in the length of labor.
9 Decreased Risk Of Postpartum Depression
Recent research suggests that women who receive pain relief during labor may have a reduced risk of experiencing postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is more common than you may think, affecting one in eight women after childbirth. Women ay experience bouts of crying, feelings of anger or resentment, and anxiety.
But how does pain relief during labor affect a woman’s mental health weeks, even months, after giving birth? While there’s not a true cause and effect explanation, the University of Pittsburgh study shows a link between pain relief during labor and less postpartum depression. Researchers believe that controlling pain may reduce inflammation, which can be linked to depression. Participants in the study who received more pain relief during labor and delivery had a lower score on a scale that measured depression after birth.
A woman who is provided with pain relief during labor may feel better rested for the first few days after delivery, and therefore better prepared to take care of her newborn, which may help reduce depression symptoms.
8 No Problem Bonding
When a woman has a lot of pain associated with labor and delivery, epidural analgesia can relieve the feelings of discomfort without causing drowsiness. A new mom may be tired from delivery, but she will still be awake and alert enough to bond with her brand new baby.
Having an epidural shouldn’t affect your baby at all. Epidural medication will not “drug” your baby or make him sleepy. If you don’t (or can’t) have an epidural and opt for IV pain medications instead, those can potentially make your baby sleepy, but this sleepiness is usually temporary and reversible.
Some women fear that having an epidural will make it difficult to breastfeed, and there are even studies that may suggest this. But when a new mom is rested after delivery, she is more likely to be able to breastfeed more comfortably. In addition, studies have shown that women who have epidurals are able to breastfeed, and their babies tend to gain more weight than breastfeeding mothers who received narcotic pain relievers.
7 It's Not Selfish
Sometimes women are shamed for choosing to have an epidural; there are people who believe that if a woman requests an epidural that she is thinking only of herself and not her baby. Although a birth with no interventions may be the safest for mom and baby, there are times when medical interventions can be helpful and absolutely necessary to achieve every mom’s goal – a healthy baby!
Years and years ago, there was a time when there really kinda was only one way to have a baby – childbirth without any drugs, and maybe even without a doctor or midwife to ensure that nothing would go wrong. Back then, without science and modern medicine, women and babies died during childbirth. Having a baby was once a dangerous thing; now it’s less dangerous, but still painful!
It’s not selfish to consider doing what you can to ensure that you have a less painful, less traumatic birth. Less traumatic can also mean safer – for both the expectant mother and her baby.
6 It’s Still A Real Experience
Just as every expectant mom is different, each birth experience is unique. No one knows how the labor and delivery will go, or what each woman will experience. It’s different for every woman, and it’s different every time. What’s painful to one woman might be a piece of cake to the next; what might seem like gruelling torture to some, is a blissful, beautiful experience to others.
No matter what methods of pain management you use or what type of delivery you have, it’s still a real experience. Many women feel guilty for finally asking for an epidural or eventually ending up having a C-section because it might not be what they had planned. It doesn’t matter. They still carried a baby for 9 months. They still went through hours of labor. And in the end, they still delivered a baby. The experience is just as real, raw, and life changing, no matter what it took to get there.
5 You’re Not Missing Out
If you’re worried that bypassing the pain of labor with an epidural means that you’re somehow missing out on the full childbirth experience, you’re not. You’re missing a few (or maybe several) hours of physical pain during the delivery, but the reality of life is that there will be plenty of pain for you to experience once the baby is born.
You’ll experience some level of pain during your recovery, no matter how you give birth. You’ll experience the pain and frustration that can come with breastfeeding and worrying about whether or not you’re doing it right or wondering if the baby is getting enough milk. You’ll feel pain when your baby is crying unconsolably and you can’t figure out what’s wrong. You’ll feel pain as you find yourself tired, frazzled, and worn out from taking care of a new baby. You’ll feel pain as you realize your baby is growing and changing so fast, growing up right before your very eyes…
Cut yourself some slack. Don’t feel bad about sitting out the pain of childbirth.
4 It's Nobody's Business
Your pregnancy will not be like anyone else’s. Your labor will not be like anyone else’s. In fact, this pregnancy and delivery will be different from your last one, or your next one. Just because things happened a certain way with your previous delivery… or just because your friend did something during her delivery… doesn’t mean that you’re any less of a mom (or a woman) if you choose to have an epidural.
Many people may want to give you their advice or their opinion on the subject, whether they’re your partner, friend, mom, or nurse. Remember that it’s your body, and in the end, it’s your choice. It’s important to discuss all the possibilities, risks, and benefits of different procedures with your doctor well before your due date. Consider writing a birth plan in place so that all your wishes for your birth are spelled out clearly in advance. And take any advice you read in books and on the internet (including this post) with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of information out there. Educate yourself and make the decision that you feel is right for you.
3 The “Ideal" Birth
Comparing yourself to other moms or envisioning the “perfect” birth scenario can lead to feelings of frustration and disappointment if events don’t unfold according to your expectations. You may build yourself up to having a completely intervention-free birth, only to wind up deciding that you would like an epidural after all. Or you might power through labor, only to end up needing an emergency C-section when your labor inexplicably stalls. These events don’t mean you’re a failure or that you didn’t succeed.
And what exactly is the “perfect” birth, anyway? Much like the “perfect” date or the “dream” wedding, the “ideal” birth varies from woman to woman. One woman may believe that the perfect birth is at home, in a bath tub, with her family around for moral support. Another woman may feel that the perfect birth is one in a hospital where a doctor and nurse are there to reassure her that everything will be okay. One woman may give labor her best shot, then opt for an epidural and get the job done. These are all different versions of the “perfect” birth – because that’s what each individual woman wanted.
2 All Births Are Beautiful
Birth is a brand new life entering the world. How can anyone say that one type of birth is better than another when all births are beautiful? It doesn’t matter where the birth takes place – in a hospital or in a home birth pool. It doesn’t matter if there are scented candles glowing or if there are glaring fluorescent lights overhead. It doesn’t matter if the mom has pain medicine or breathes the pain out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a vaginal birth or a C-section.
Moms are judged so much; by society, by each other. We are judged on our looks, our weight, our births, our decisions to work or stay home, and our parenting skills. While there are many different options for giving birth, the essence of the experience is the same for all of us. It should unite us. Birth is a powerful, beautiful thing; it shouldn’t be clouded with judgement, guilt, or shame.
1 What Matters Most Is That Mom And Baby Are Healthy
The bottom line is: however you choose to labor and give birth, having a baby should earn you a serious badge of courage. There are no medals or trophies for doing it one way or the other. There are many options for managing pain and delivering a baby; some women may choose to do it free of interventions and drugs, others may choose to alleviate the pain with medication. These options don’t make a mother any better or any worse, and a woman needs to decide for herself what’s best for her.
An epidural is one tool in the labor and delivery toolbox for a mom to use. There’s no shame in asking for one if you feel like you need it, and no one should be judged for making that decision. As we’ve said before, educate yourself to all the benefits and risks, and make the choices that work best for you, your body, and your baby.