Considering an Epidural? What You Should Know First
When I gave birth to my son, I chose not to have an epidural. This is not a common choice: after all, if it means a free pass on the pain of labour and delivery, why wouldn't I jump at the chance?
No, I wanted to try giving birth naturally. My mother gave birth four times without an epidural, I reasoned. How hard could it be? So I stood my ground and declined it, though there were many moments I wished I hadn't.
What is an epidural?
“An epidural is a catheter that goes into one of the spaces in your spine - the epidural space - [releasing] constant, continued local anesthetic for the spinal nerves during labour,” explains Dr. Grace Liu, an OBGYN at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.
You can have the epidural at any point during labour, but most women choose to have it administered when their contractions are getting stronger, often when their cervix has dilated to about 5 or 6cm. The effects begin to wear off shortly after the medication has been stopped.
Once your epidural is in place, it should stay in until after your baby is born and your placenta delivered. It takes about 20 minutes to insert and then about 20 minutes until it begins to take effect. Possible side effects include paralysis, though according to Dr. Liu the chances of this happening are less than 1 in 100,000.
“It’s really unlikely for paralysis, permanent damage, or muscle weakness to occur when having an epidural,” she says.
One of the most common risks with the epidural is that it can cause a spinal headache. This happens if the epidural needle punctures the bag of fluid which surrounds the spinal cord, causing a leak of fluid. The chance of this happening is about 1 in 100.
“It’ll cause this crazy headache and it’s most often positional, so if she lies down the headache’s gone and if she sits up it comes back,” says Dr. Liu.
The biggest baby-related risk is that it could decrease your blood pressure, so to counter this, women are given fluid via IV before the epidural is administered.
Why should you choose an epidural? Some might argue that the birthing process is more enjoyable without the pains and stress, but others insist going natural is a powerful experience that shouldn't be missed.
Speak to your doctor about your options. You might be surprised at the number of choices available to you!
Have you ever had an epidural? What was your experience like?
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Well my first experience wasn't bad at all. I had to be induced because my son didn't want to come out. He was late, and I was also leaking amniotic fluid. Basically my water broke, but it was a slow leak and I didn't notice anything then peeing frequently which I had already been doing throughout the pregnancy. So they brought me into the labour ward hooked me up to IV and started giving me oxytocin to induce labour. The pain was fine, it was the same strength throughout the entire time I was in labour which was a total of 15 hours. They gave me a bit of morphine to help with the pain and to help me sleep, but it didn't do anything. The pushing didn't hurt much either, not enough for me to want more pain relief.
@mela You know, now that you mention it, I had a "dead" spot right near my epidural injection point for about a year after my last baby. It was numb but kind of tickly at the same time (sort of like it had fallen asleep but without any surface sensation). But it did eventually go away. I have no idea if that was related or even if it was the exact spot, but it could have been.
The hospital in my city doesn't do epidurals. If you want an epidural you have to drive to London ON, about an hour away! For that reason alone, I will be opting for natural childbirth. I'd much rather be in pain and safely surrounded by medical professionals than be in pain and driving down the highway hoping for the best lol
I was adamant at first about not getting the epidural. But as the labour pains increased, my mind was changing. I mean I am a small girl with a baby that eventually came out weighing 9 pounds. So as the pain increased I asked for some alternatives and they mentioned a morphine needle. This was injected on my rear end and it did absolutely nothing.
@mumaluv - that sounds much more reasonable!
@Lauren Inserting the epidural needle might take 20 minutes from the time the doctor comes in to the point when it's all hooked up and going. It takes about 20 minutes after that for the anesthetic to kick in and ease the pains.
I tried to go natural for each of my deliveries, but just couldn't make it. I found that in anticipation of the labour pain I'd clench up so the contractions weren't as effective, prolonging the process. As soon as I took the epidural, my labour progressed much faster.
What exactly takes 20 minutes? Does the needle goes in that slowly, wouldn't that be pretty painful as well or are their other steps to inserting? I'm pretty clueless when it comes to this!
I'm curious, Sandy what was your experience like without one? Was it as bad as everyone says?
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