(Yes, that is an actual picture of me getting an epidural. I don't know how I managed a smile.)
As a first time mom-to-be, an epidural is one of the things you need to think about. But not too hard, because you can always change your mind.
Labor is hard work (hence the name) and painful. Common pain relieving methods available at all hospitals should include epidurals and IV pain medications. There are other methods that have shown to be effective in helping with labor pains that your hospital may or may not provide, so discuss this with your doctor.
Epidurals provide the best pain relief you can hope to get in labor.
If it did not work before, it does not mean it will not work next time.
It is almost never "too early" or "too late" to get an epidural. In fact, we recommend epidurals early in labor for certain high risk conditions like maternal heart disease or multiple gestation.
If you have an epidural and require a c-section for whatever reason, the anesthesiologist can usually use the same epidural catheter to give you the very dense anesthesia required for surgery. So you are less likely to need to go to sleep for your surgery, even if it is urgent.
Epidurals do NOT increase your risk of having a c-section!
Rare conditions may not allow you to get an epidural, such as having low platelets or having a blood vessel tumor near your spinal cord.
Most common side effects are:
1. Hypotension (dropping blood pressure): you may get extra fluids in your IV or even medications if your blood pressure drops low.
2. Itching: temporary and happens from the medications that are given in your epidural. You may get medications to relieve this if it is severe.
3. Back soreness: which will get better within a couple of days.
Some people get a post-dural puncture headache (also known as a spinal headache) that may need further treatment. This typically resolves within a week.
Is it still considered a natural birth if I have an epidural?
There is no medical or scientific definition to a natural birth. If you did not get an epidural but got morphine, is that natural? If you did not get an epidural but had a vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery, is that natural?
My suggestion: delete that verbiage from your vocab and shut down all those who say otherwise. If you must, you may call it an "unmedicated birth."
But really, who cares? No one is giving out awards for who has the most painful experience giving birth.
Furthermore, as I always say, there is nothing natural about pain.
Can I become paralyzed from an epidural?
If you are still overwhelmed, you just need more information. Talk to your OB provider, they should be able to answer your specific questions. And if that doesn't feel like enough, ask for an anesthesiology consultation. Yes - anesthesiologists are available to see you in clinic and talk to you about all this while you are still pregnant. Don't worry, you will have another chance to talk to them when you are admitted to labor and delivery.
What questions do you have about epidurals? Leave them below!