Getting an epidural is often one of the things moms worry most about when it comes to labor and delivery. Of course, not every mom will want one, and not every mom will need one, but there are pros and cons to the procedure and its effects.
Some moms absolutely swear by having an epidural no matter what happens during her birth, while others may not even have time to give the pain relief solution consideration at all. After all, some mamas’ labors are so fast that there’s hardly time to get to the hospital (if that, in some cases—like Seth Meyers’ wife with their latest kiddo!).
On the other hand, some moms like to prepare far in advance when it comes to figuring out a birth plan and deciding on the pros and cons of every procedure and option. And while all hospitals and birth centers vary in terms of what they’ll agree to do for or with laboring moms, in many instances, it’s left up to the expecting mom to decide what works for her.
This is why it’s a great idea to be prepared and know the pros and cons to every labor and delivery intervention a mama might encounter—starting with the ups and downs to getting an epidural.
21 Pro: Works Super Fast
Because an epidural delivers medicine directly into a mom’s spine to numb her, they tend to work pretty fast! Once the procedure is done, a mom will usually lie back in bed and wait for the numbness to kick in. She might notice her toes tingling at first, and soon—hopefully—she’ll be having contractions without even realizing it!
For lots of moms, the epidural can be a super-fast solution to the strong contractions they’re experiencing, which is preferable to other pain relief techniques that might take more concentration or time than the laboring mama can deal with in the moment.
20 Con: Have To Wait For The Right Team
Although an epidural tends to work pretty quickly once it’s placed, the downside to getting one is you have to wait for the right team to come insert it. While having pain medication via IV is an option in many places—along with things like laughing gas in other areas—those pain relief prescriptions can usually be delivered by a nurse. And while some studies suggest that IV meds can affect the baby more than an epidural does, sometimes moms need to take the edge of the intensity off while waiting for the anesthesiologist to come through with her epi!
19 Pro: Takes The Pain Away
Probably the biggest benefit of the epidural is that it takes the pain away! Plenty of mamas claim that they’ve had pain-free births, but let’s be honest: most of us feel some amount of pain during labor and delivery. On that same note, plenty of mamas would rather not feel that pain if at all possible. We have our reasons, of course, but the fact remains that getting rid of pain allows moms to feel labor without focusing on the pain of the process. Plus, your health care team can always “dial back” the epidural when it comes time to push, if that’s something they agree with and that you can manage comfort-wise.
18 Con: Can’t Feel To Push
For most moms who want an epidural, part of the appeal is that you won’t feel much in the way of what’s happening down there as the baby makes its debut. But on that some note, not being able to feel your lower half could mean you don’t know when to push! Whether it’s the monitor showing your contractions or the nurse who’s feeling your tummy tighten from the outside, someone (or something) else will have to let you know when it’s a good time to push…
And even then, you may not necessarily be able to tell that you’re pushing!
17 Pro: Lets Mom Take A Break
For a lot of moms who wind up taking an epidural, the difference in their labor experience can be flat-out amazing. If you’re having really intense labor, are stressed out and just waiting for the next round of contractions, you’re not getting much rest or even getting a chance to breathe deeply. The thing is, having an epidural can cut the intensity down so much that you may even be able to nap while the contractions do the work for you.
Sure, plenty of mamas won’t really sleep, but being able to sit back and close your eyes can do wonders for building up your stamina for delivery.
16 Con: Slows Down The Process
One of the things that experts always say about epidurals is that they can slow down a mama’s labor to the point where more interventions are needed. And although every mama is different, it does seem like many more moms report needing more Pitocin or other interventions after starting up an epidural. There is something to be said for nature taking its course, right? After all, birth typically has its own timetable, and it depends on both the mama and the baby—and biology!
Then again, this won’t necessarily affect every mom who has an epidural—it’s just another potential drawback of getting one.
15 Pro: Helps Ease Inductions
With my own two births, I felt like there was a huge difference between having inductive measures (Pitocin and having the doctor break my water artificially, etcetera) and having a labor where we just waited my body out. And I’ve heard from other moms that having an induction is often way more intense than having a “natural” un-augmented labor. If that’s the case for you, but you require an induction or choose one for some reason, an epidural might make it more manageable.
Some moms swear that natural contractions are much easier to handle than artificial ones made by Pitocin, so that could make a difference in your birth experience.
14 Con: Can Cause Long-Term Back Problems
Unfortunately, I’ve personally experienced this drawback of having an epidural placed: long-term back pain and problems. Even nearly a decade after the birth of my first kiddo, I still have back pain and a numb spot from having my epidural placed. Of course, this doesn’t happen with every mama—it also depends on your provider’s skill level and whatnot—but I’ve heard from many mamas who said they continued to have back pain long after their epidural was done. And there’s really no way to predict how it will go for you personally, as plenty more mamas have no ill effects afterward!
13 Pro: When Done Right, It Works
Another problem I had with my epidural was that it likely wasn’t placed correctly. Thankfully, that’s rather uncommon these days! For moms whose epidurals are done properly—which is the majority of them (phew!)—you have full pain coverage no matter whether you’re experiencing the contractions in your tummy or having clenching pain in your back.
Overall, when the epidural works, it works great! That’s great news for moms struggling with super-long and drawn-out births, or those who just can’t hang with the pain anymore. But did you know there’s a chance the epidural may not work? It’s weird and relatively rare, but it does happen.
12 Con: Sometimes “Windows” Happen
When I had my first child, I had an epidural placed after my nurses kept dialing up my Pitocin. Ultimately, my epidural was placed and I could still feel everything in my belly area and even below! At the same time, I couldn’t feel my feet or parts of my legs. When I told my birth team this, they didn’t pay much attention, but I read later that this is something that can happen with epidurals and it’s called a “window”—as in, you can still have spots where you have full feeling even though other spots are numb.
Again, there’s no way to predict if this will happen to you, so it might just be one of the risks moms have to take if they opt for an epidural.
11 Pro: It Wears Off When It’s Over
One of the nice things about an epidural is once it wears off, you’re usually back to normal—except for the fact that you’ve had a baby, of course! In contrast with full anesthesia, which I had for a knee surgery years before having my first kiddo, the epidural had no ill effects for me as far as nausea or anything like that. Anesthesia where you’re knocked out though? That had me feeling queasy for hours afterward, shivering from chills, and feeling super-emotional to boot!
In contrast with that type of anesthesia experience, an epidural is way more desirable. Besides, we want to be awake for our babies anyway!
10 Con: Have To Potty Differently
One of the things I was really concerned about when having an epidural was the need for a catheter. Clearly, you can’t get out of bed to use the restroom when you have an epidural numbing you from the waist down. Fortunately for me, the catheter turned out to be not as bad as I expected. Then, right after the birth, when my epidural was “shut off,” they removed the catheter. A few hours after that, most mamas are able to get out of bed (usually with some help!) to use the bathroom independently.
Then again, when you’re mid-contraction, it’s not really a concern about what’s happening with your bowels—so the catheter might be a plus in that case.
9 Pro: Won’t Feel Post-Partum Repairs
Another positive with an epidural is that if you require any tending to afterward, you likely won’t be able to feel it. If you need stitches, for example, odds are that the numbing will still be in effect, so you’ll hopefully not feel discomfort while that’s being done. And, if you don’t need any of that done, there’s still the placenta that has to make its exit. If you’re like me (and many other moms), yours might need a little extra assistance getting out. Of course, nurses tend to start to massage your tummy right after birth, too, and that can be uncomfortable—another reason for that good old epidural to keep going a bit longer.
8 Con: It Could Still Hurt Later
One of the things about epidurals that’s positive is that they wear off. However, this can be a con in the sense that you might do things while you can’t feel them that could end up making you more uncomfortable later. For example, most L&D teams will suggest moms only push during contractions, and only when they feel the urge to push, to cut down on the chance that she’ll wind up needing repairs down below.
An epidural reduces feeling, so you might be straining your body when the contractions aren’t happening, meaning you’ll definitely feel it later when the anesthesia wears off.
7 Pro: She Can Collect Her Thoughts
Part of what’s so appealing to many mamas about epidurals is that they give you the space to breathe! This type of pain relief can help you ground yourself and be more aware of what’s happening. After all, when you’re not focused on getting through the pain, you can relax, talk yourself down, and refocus on getting ready to meet your little one.
Relaxing that way can also help make your labor move along more smoothly—after all, moms’ instincts are to protect the baby, so if you feel stressed, you may subconsciously be fighting the contractions with each surge. With an epidural, you stop fighting so hard and slow down a bit.
6 Con: Mom Can’t Move Around
With my second kiddo, I was adamant that I didn’t want an epidural because I didn’t want to be stuck laboring or even delivering in a bed. To me, that’s a big drawback of having an epidural. It almost guarantees you’ll be delivering your baby flat on your back, which most medical professionals seem to want, but many studies have reported isn’t ideal for the mom or her baby. After all, when gravity helps out, things tend to go faster and more smoothly.
That aside, I never felt comfortable lying in bed while having contractions—it just wasn’t comfortable—so this was a sticking point for me in my second birth.
5 Pro: She’s In Prime Pushing Position
As far as what doctors and nurses want when a mom is in labor, having an epidural is pretty convenient for them! Because once a mom has her epidural in, she can’t sit up on her own, get out of bed, or even roll over. This means the doctor and nurses get to decide how she’ll be delivering—and it’s usually easier for a doctor to deliver a baby from the foot of the bed, right?
It’s more challenging to catch a baby who’s coming out while a mom is laboring in a tub or on the floor, or even standing upright.
4 Con: Back-Lying Labor Can Take Longer
One of the positives of moving around during labor is that gravity helps the baby to move down the birth canal. For a mom who is in bed with an epidural, it might wind up taking longer for her to labor and deliver her little one since gravity isn’t helping. And maybe this is why professionals say that epidurals can slow down labor—because moms are hardly moving at all, so all of the laboring “work” is left to her body’s mechanisms and any labor augmentation she’s having (like her water broken artificially or Pitocin in an IV).
Obviously, some mamas have really fast births despite their epidurals, but again, it’s something we can’t know ahead of time!
3 Pro: It Might Make The Experience Memorable (In A Good Way)
Most moms remember their children’s births very clearly—at least, we remember the first time we hold our babies or the few moments afterward. Fewer moms remember their entire labors, however, and some may even regret things they’ve said or done during the experience! Apparently, blaming their partners for the painful birth is one of the ways many moms express themselves mid-contraction!
So having an epidural in that case might help a mama to calm down and feel less stress, meaning she’s more likely to make meaningful memories that are relaxed and happy instead of pain-driven and potentially really rude!
2 Con: It Could Stress Moms With Tough Histories
For some moms, being active and moving around during labor is a necessity. Especially for a mom who has had a less-than-desirable birth experience in the past, making sure she’s in control of her experience this time around might be really important. So having to get an epidural—especially if she was really against it—can make her even more stressed and have a tougher delivery. It all depends on the individual mama, though, so this is another scenario that really varies based on the situation.
Then again, some of us really just don’t want to be stuck in a hospital bed because we feel like we’re not doing enough to get our babies out, and that’s understandable, too.
1 Pro: Moms Get To Choose What’s Right For Them
Probably the biggest perk of having an epidural? The ability to choose it in the first place! It’s nice that these methods of pain relief exist for moms, and not just epidurals but laughing gas and other IV meds as applicable, too. After all, while every mom wants a healthy and happy baby at the end of her labor, it’s also important how she’s feeling and what she’s experiencing during the process. That means that in some cases, an epidural could make or break her experience—and only each woman herself knows what’s best for her, especially when it comes to how she deals with discomfort in labor.