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Pros and Cons of an Epidural: Pain Relief 101

Pros and Cons of an Epidural: Pain Relief 101

Women often discuss the pros and cons of an epidural. Labor can be painful, long, and difficult and pain relief is often necessary at some point during labor. There are a wide variety of pain relief options, but one of the most popular and most effective is an epidural. In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of an epidural and other pain management options available to you. 

What is an Epidural?

An epidural is a type of anesthesia used for pain relief medication during labor and delivery. This medication injects into the lower spine and prevents your nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. As a result, you have decreased feeling in the bottom half of your body. 

Contrary to popular belief, an epidural is not supposed to make you completely numb in the bottom half of your body. It relieves the intense pain, but still maintains your ability to feel pressure and movements. This allows you to remain awake and alert throughout your labor so that you can push when the time comes. 

Types of Epidurals and How They Work

There are three types of epidurals. 

  • The first is an epidural. This is the most common type for women in labor. A catheter inserts into the bottom part of your spine in an area known as the epidural space. This catheter administers the local anesthetic throughout your labor. 
  • The second is the spinal injection. These epidurals are fast-acting and quickly wear off. The injection goes into the epidural space, but unlike the epidural, it does not continue to administer the anesthetic. The spinal injection numbs your lower body for about two hours. Most times this is not used during labor unless they know the entire labor and delivery will take less than two hours. 
  • The last type of epidural is a Combined spinal-epidural (CSE). This type of epidural uses both of the above types. A doctor administers a spinal injection to decrease your pain quickly, and then they insert a catheter. The catheter administers the anesthetic throughout your labor. A CSE often uses a lower dose of the anesthetic so that you have a little bit more feeling in the lower half of your body. This allows you to be more aware of your pain and gives you more movement in your lower body. 

The type of epidural you receive during your labor will differ based on what your doctor and anesthesiologist recommend/use. If you think you may want an epidural during your labor talk to your doctor beforehand so he understands what your preferences are and you can discuss the pros and cons of an epidural.

Pros of an Epidural

As you are setting up your birth plan one of the steps will be to determine your preferred pain-relief method. An epidural is one of the options that is available to you. Some women, particularly those who want an all-natural birth, may choose to forgo an epidural in favor of breathing methods for pain relief. In order to make an informed decision it is important you understand the pros and cons of an epidural. 

Epidurals offer pain relief, increased speed of labor, immediate emergency c-section, and the ability to remain awake during labor. 

Pain Relief

Labor is painful. And for some women, this pain can be too much to bear. An epidural offers the pain relief that is needed to continue with labor. It is a safe and effective method for the much-needed relief you may need from your contractions.

Increased Speed of Labor

This is not a guarantee. Stress hormones slow labor, so you can inadvertently slow your labor when stressed. This hormone can prolong your labor. Once you receive some relief from your pain, your body will begin to calm down and stop producing the stress hormone. This can cause your labor to begin to progress again. 

Immediate Emergency C-Section

In the case of an emergency C-section, you will be able to remain awake and alert throughout it. During the C-section, you will be put to sleep if you did not have an epidural. In addition, you may not be able to see your baby immediately after giving birth. With an epidural, your lower body is numb and your doctor can perform any necessary surgery without putting you to sleep beforehand. 

Remain Alert During Labor

Whether you are giving birth via vaginal delivery or C-section an epidural allows you to be alert and present during your delivery. The pain does not overtake your thoughts, and you can enjoy your baby as soon as they are born. 

Cons of an Epidural

As with any medical procedure, an epidural does come with some risks. It is up to you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons of an epidural. The cons of an epidural include decreased movement, headaches, urinary catheter, lowered blood pressure, and infection. 

  • Decreased Movement: Due to the nature of an epidural any movement of the lower body will be limited. While you will still have some sensation in your legs and lower body you will not be able to get up and walk around after you receive an epidural.
  • Headaches: Although rare, some women report getting severe headaches after insertion of an epidural.
  • Urinary Catheter: Because your lower body is numb you will not have control over your bladder. A urinary catheter will collect your urine due to this decreased control. The urinary catheter is removed, once your labor is complete, and your epidural has worn off. After it is removed you may still feel stinging and soreness.
  • Lowered Blood Pressure: For some women who are prone to hypertension this may actually be a pro, as an epidural can decrease your blood pressure. For some women, this is a problem as their blood pressure can drop too low and doctors will have to help increase it again. 
  • Infection: In very rare cases the catheter or needle, used for the epidural, causes infection. This is if they are not properly sterilized.

There are other mild side effects that can occur from an epidural including itchiness, drowsiness, breathing problems, and muscle weakness. If you experience any of these side effects alert your physician right away so they can remedy the problem. 

Other Pain Management Options 

For some women, the pros are not enough to overcome the cons of an epidural. In these cases, there are other pain management options available to them. This includes opioids, pudendal block, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), and other natural remedies. If you are attempting to have an all-natural birth with no medical intervention these natural remedies may work for you. Natural remedies include: 

  • applying heat or cold to the lower back
  • Massaging the lower back
  • taking warm baths or showers
  • finding comfortable positions, such as crouching, standing, or walking
  • using a labor ball

Long Term Side Effects

Thankfully after labor is complete and the epidural has worn off there are rarely any long term side effects. In some cases, the epidural can cause permanent nerve damage but these are very rare. In general, you may continue to feel numb after delivery for a few hours. Overall you should be back to normal once the epidural wears off. Unlike other medical pain management options, an epidural will not have any effects on the baby during or after labor.

Thankfully after it is all said and done, you will have a baby to enjoy and a long journey ahead of you. Make sure you take care of yourself after labor so you can recover and enjoy all these new moments. Bellefit has everything you need to stay healthy and happy after your delivery. Check out our postpartum garments. We have nursing bras, compression leggings, and postpartum underwear so you can recover comfortably and quickly. 

We hope this has been an informative article that has helped you reach a decision on your pain relief options. 

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Cynthia Suarez

  • Sep 24, 2020
  • Category: News