15 Things You Need To Know About Epidurals

When the day comes to bring baby into the world, and Mom feels like she needs pain relief, then have pain relief. She's been psyching herself up now for nine months and she deserve some help.

Epidurals are the most popular form of pain relief used in labour and over 50% - you should read that again if you're feeling guilty for wanting pain relief - will have an epidural at some stage during the birth of their baby.

I was fascinated to find out that it's been over a hundred years since epidurals were first used for pain relief. Imagine that! But it was to be another 70 years before they became popular among women in labour.

What an epidural does is it blocks pain in a particular part of the body. To have an epidural, a hollow needle will be inserted into the small bones of your spine. (The hairs on the back of my neck went up, too). The needle will go into the epidural space between the layers of tissue in your spine. Then, a very fine tube called a catheter is inserted into the needle. When it's in place, the needle is then removed. The catheter is taped to your back and over your shoulder.

The decision to have an epidural is personal. It's a choice for you as an individual to make without being pressured.

Here are fifteen things you ought to be clued in on about epidurals before you go into labour.

15 There Are Different Kinds

If you are looking to get an epidural during your labour, you have quite a range to choose from. However the type used will depend on a few things; why it's needed, the preference of the anesthetist (that's who will be sticking the needle in), hospital policy and your preference.

Among the epidurals available there's the continuous epidural. It's the most common type of epidural because it offers constant pain relief. Your blood pressure will be more stable and overall you'll need a lower dose of medication.

Then there's an intermittent epidural. With this, the medicine would be injected intermittently which would allow you to juggle the level of pain you can tolerate.

And there's the patient-controlled epidural anesthesia (PCEA). This would allow you to self-regulate the amount of relief you receive. Basically you would press a button which would allow a preset computer-controlled amount of medication to be injected.

14 It Isn't Considered Cheating

If you go for an epidural, there's a chance you'll get some slack about it somewhere along the line. People may claim you 'cheated' with your birth because you didn't 'fully experience' it.

This 'cheating' accusation is nothing but a big pile of BS. Of course you will have experienced the birth. There will have been labour, a lot of labour, before the epidural was administrated, plus, you don't need to suffer through childbirth. There's nobody you need to prove anything to.

Medical interventions like our friend the epidural exist for a reason - to help you through the pain. By having an epidural, you could experience the childbirth you'd been hoping for for all those long months - a childbirth where you're fully present. Some women have said without an epidural, they wouldn't have been able to find the physical and mental strength they needed to be able to push.

13 You May Only Have Partial Pain Relief

While an epidural can seem like it would be your pain savior during your labour, they don't always work brilliantly. About 5 - 10 percent of the time, having an epidural will provide partial relief. For example, it may only numb one side of your lower body.

There is an upside however. Adding more medication or redoing an epidural can, in 75% of instances, correct the problem. If you're expecting to have a pain-free labour, you need to be prepared to be disappointed as it may not be the case.

One reason an epidural might not work well is because it's given too late. Getting an epidural to work with a woman who is in the late stages of labour can be very difficult. Though there could also be issues if you have, say, scar tissue which may prevent the medicine from travelling down the spinal fluid like it should.

12 There Are Risks Involved

It's important to gather as much information as you can about epidurals before you go into labour because, as with everything, there's some risks involved.

Approximately 1 percent of women who do have an epidural will develop a spinal headache. This can come on during or after labour, and can be very severe. Frustratingly, the pain can hang around for days or, in rare cases, for weeks. Really not what you need when you have a newborn!

For reasons that have yet to be fully understood, having an epidural will drastically raise the odds of developing a fever during your labour. One study from the year 2000 gathered evidence that nearly 12 percent of women who received an epidural ran a temperature of 37.8 C or greater. In the chance that the fever could be a warning of an infection, you and your baby would usually be treated with antibiotics.

11 A Walking Epidural Doesn't Mean You Can Walk Much

If you think that having a walking epidural will mean you can go down the hall to get a soda from the drinks machine, think again. The majority of women who have one won't be getting up out of bed.

More often than not, you'll be kept immobile. And even if you're able to move your legs, you'll be hooked up to an IV and a fetal monitor so marching around won't be on the cards.

The walking epidural is an option which combines a narcotic like fentanyl (this dulls pain) with a smaller dose of anesthesia (this blocks all sensation in one part of your body). This leaves your legs less numb. However be aware that the walking epidural isn't available in every hospital. The pros include the pain relief being very rapid and it continuing throughout your labour. You may also be able to walk a little bit.

10 It's Important Not To Eat Too Much Beforehand

If you are planning on having an epidural, it's wise not to eat too much beforehand. However what and how much you eat depends on the rules of the hospital you're giving birth at.

Because an epidural can lower your blood pressure drastically, as a result you can be sick, and if you have food in your stomach, the chances of vomiting increases. Having an empty stomach when having an epidural can help prevent nausea and vomiting. Also, in case you need to have surgery, it's best not to have eaten anything recently.

Overall you'll probably be fasting for 12 hours or more. This might not be an easy thing to take in, especially seeing as though you've been used to eating for 2 for 9 months. But tell one of your loved ones that their duty is to get you a feast for when the labour is over.

9 It's Common To Get One

Having an epidural is common, however this doesn't stop it from being a procedure often frowned upon by those who believe in an entirely 'natural' birth with no source of pain relief.

There's no reason to feel guilty for wanting an epidural. Hell, you're not alone! Considered one of the safest methods of pain control, just one in 3,000 pregnancies encounter serious complications.

Childbirth is one of the most painful experiences known to mankind, so if you have the power in your hands - or your spine in this case - to make it any less sore, don't hesitate to ask for it.

Some women who've given birth without the aid of an epidural have considered giving birth without drugs to be an 'empowering experience.' Well, I need to jump in here and say that giving birth, drugs or no drugs, is the most empowering thing a woman can do.

8 It Can Make Labour More Enjoyable

Happy Mom

Did you ever think that labour could be anything put pain? Well, many women have reported that because of having an epidural they were actually able to enjoy the experience of giving birth.

It often cuts short the agony and enables mom to get a little bit of rest before the big push. However just before you push, the epidural needs to be allowed to wear off a little so that you can push with the contractions. Not being able to feel them wouldn't help! An epidural would enable you to talk and focus during your labour - two things which are quite difficult when you're going through what will probably be the most painful experience of your life.

If an epidural is timed well, it can be a godsend to an exhausted mother. Don't ever feel bullied into not having an epidural if you feel you need it.

7 Ask For It Straight Away

The sooner you ask for an epidural, the better, so speak up and don't hold your tongue if you want pain relief. If it's administered too late, it may well be ineffective and not provide the pain relief you were hoping for. It's possible for you to ask for an epidural as soon as you're ready for it. To have an epidural, you are required to lie perfectly still. Of course, this will get more and more difficult as the labour progresses.

Also, hospitals are busy places and you may need to wait for the anesthesiologist. In some cases, women have had to wait hours, even days before getting an epidural. Sadly, the feared cost of administrating the epidural can be an issue, as well as the lack of manpower.

Having an epidural on time instead of too late may have shorter labours than those who have it later.

6 It Can Increase The Chance For A C-Section

The topic of whether or not epidurals can increase the chances of women needing to have a caesarean section is a hotly debated one. But yes, having an epidural may increase the risk of a caesarean section in numerous ways.

It could lead to the decrease in your blood pressure which, as a result, decreases blood supply to the uterus and causes fetal distress. Fetal distress is a signal for an urgent caesarean section. This surgery can entail a long recovery. There's also risk for post-operation infections as well as future pregnancy complications.

An epidural slows the progress of your labour, sometimes to the point that the baby's only way to arrive safely is to be delivered surgically. An epidural may also interfere with your ability to push, which again may lead to surgery.

Research into this topic is constantly ongoing in order to keep the evidence up to date.

5 It Can Lengthen The Labour

Using epidurals for pain relief can make your labour last longer than if you were to go for it drug free. The epidural can lengthen the second stage of your labour - also known as the pushing stage.

In a recent study, researchers looked at more than 42,000 women in California who delivered vaginally between the year 1976 and the year 2008. They compared the length of the second stage of labour among women who had received epidurals and those who hadn't.

Although it was thought epidurals lengthen labour by about one hour, the study found that women who had epidurals actually took two to three hours longer to get through the second stage of labour, when compared with women who hadn't received an epidural.

We don't fully understand why epidurals prolong labour, but experts speculate that because the pelvic muscles are relaxed, the mom has less urge to push.

4 You Can Have An Epidural If You Have A Lower Back Tattoo


So, you have a lower back tattoo and you're worried you might not be able to have an epidural because of complications with the tattoo ink. Well, you can stop worrying. You might have heard it on the grapevine that the dye in your tattoo could be picked up by the epidural or spinal-block needle then carried into the spinal fluid or bloodstream, but it can't.

If your tattoo is healed, then the dye is fixed inside your skin. It isn't going anywhere. Plus, in case you needed a bit more reassurance, ink is harmless to your body, so, even if it somehow managed to enter your spine or sneak into your bloodstream, there would be no adverse effects.

However, if your tattoo is still fresh (bear in mind a tattoo can take at least two weeks to heal) putting an epidural needle through it can increase chances of infection.

3 You Can Still Push

This is one of the things that kept on coming up during my research - that epidurals make it much more difficult to push.

Okay, so while an epidural can mean you lose much of the sensation in your pelvic area and as a result make it difficult to push because you're not able to fully work with your contractions, if you have the right support around you, you should be able to make it through without resorting to surgery.

One woman talked about how her nurse coached her through the pushing like a drill sergeant, and this may well be something you need during your labour. A nurse will keep an eye on the intensity of your contractions and instruct you when it's time to push.

If you find that your epidural wears off, then you may experience an intense urge to push - that or have a bowel movement.

2 You Can't Have It At Home

While there are many benefits to giving birth at home - you're in your own surroundings so feel more comfortable and your delivery may be more peaceful - you need to know that having an epidural will not be possible.

While there's a range of pain relief alternatives available including gas and air, if it's an epidural you're after you must go to hospital as it needs to be given by an anesthetist.

If you decide, while you're giving birth at home, that you want an epidural, it can be possible for you to transfer to the hospital. Your nurse may phone ahead to try to arrange for this to be given soon after your arrival.

One mother while having a home birth said, "what the hell was I thinking? I just want an epidural. Or a caesarean." Worried about labour hurting? Consider your options. Hospital may be the best one.

1 You Can Still Bond With Baby

Some people have some crazy ideas, and the idea of an epidural reducing the chances of you being able to bond with your baby is simply ludicrous.

One poor mom had a friend say to her that her inability to bond with her newborn son was because of her choice to have an epidural. Can you even imagine something more hurtful, and especially between friends? The unfortunate reasons she struggled to bond were actually Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, postpartum depression and the loss of a twin when she was 19 weeks pregnant.

Don't let anyone tell you that by having an epidural you will damage the bond between you and your child. Not only is it offensive but it's nonsense too, in fact, one mother claimed that she was so exhausted after her drug free birth that she was unable to hold her baby until a day after giving birth.

Sources: Belly Belly, She Knows

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