Epidural anesthesia is the most common form of pain relief for laboring women, and they resort to it for valid enough reasons. One such reason being the wish to conserve their physical and emotional energies for later after their baby arrives. Secondly labor can be truly a painful experience for many, much beyond their endurance. And finally majority of women want to be active participants during the birthing process. Many women embrace this form of pain relief for the benefits it offers but it is good to be aware of the drawbacks irrespective of the decision you will make.
- Epidural anesthesia is estimated to relieve 90% of pain in 85% of women, according to survey. This form of pain relief works on reducing the unpleasant aspects without affecting awareness and memory of the birthing process.
- Many women find that epidural gives them the opportunity to relax and not be so uptight about their baby's birth. The relaxation achieved with epidural causes the contractions to work more efficiently, especially during the active phase.
- Epidurals can actually help speed up the labor process more so if the mother has been subjected to an exhaustive long labor.
- Laboring mothers are of the view that epidurals doesn't act like a sedative and blur their thinking. Instead it provides the opportunity to be emotionally alert when their baby is born.
- An epidural in place can prevent the use of general anesthesia (which is more risky) in the event of an emergency cesarean. In vaginal births where stitches may be necessary epidural will provide anesthesia for that as well.
- Epidurals actually offer the worn out mother a chance to rest it off before actively pushing again.
- For women predisposed to hypertension or have medical issues such as preeclampsia, epidural anesthesia tends to lower maternal blood pressure. Given the situation a lower blood pressure is desirable as labor pains may increase the pressure level.
- In most instances relief to the abdominal area and lower back is within minutes, 20 mins max. There is a choice of using it for a short while and then giving birth without it or it can be topped up for the remainder of the labor.
- There is a contentious view on the use of epidural in early labor. Some experts believe that if epidural is administered early on it hinders progress and increases the likelihood of intervention such as forceps, vacuum or cesarean. On the other hand some studies show that epidurals received in early labor hastens the progress.
- For reasons not known women with epidurals are more likely to develop fever during labor. The condition has to be medically managed through IV antibiotic treatment, speeding up labor with syntocin, forceps, vacuum or cesarean. Since the cause of fever is not established it becomes necessary sometimes to check the baby for possible infection and even give the newborn IV antibiotics for a few days after birth.
- Pain relief may not be complete. Contrary to belief, labor may still be tough, and pushing can still be exhausting, particularly if it is your first baby.
- Use of it may cause maternal blood pressure to drop, causing the mother to feel faint (sometimes) temporarily. There is also an increase risk of fetal distress.
- Epidural anesthesia numbs the pelvic nerves and either weakens the urge to push or causes it to go away altogether. Contractions become sluggish and bearing down becomes more difficult.
- Since you are numb from the waist down to your knees, you will stay confined to bed and hooked up to machines (epidural pump, IV and fetal monitor). Your baby will be continuously tracked on the fetal monitor and a coach may be necessary if bearing down becomes an issue. The whole experience becomes medical in nature.
- There is a tendency to feel pain in the back, shoulders, neck or head for hours and sometimes days, post delivery.