What to expect after getting an epidural?
An epidural is a great medicine for reducing the pain during the delivery. It is essentially a small needle and a tiny tube that administers anesthesia into your lower back. The needle is then removed, but the tube remains inside until the medication goes fully inside. After 15 minutes, it will essentially numb your body from your belly button to your legs while keeping you alert and sensitive to pressure. This allows you to continue to push with minimized discomfort during the birth.
You can receive an epidural at any time during your delivery, from beginning to middle, to end. The amount of medication received through the epidural can be both increased and decreased throughout the delivery.
The doctor will numb the area where the needle goes in so you should only feel a slight stinging sensation. However, you will generally feel very little pain during the injection except for some mild pressure at the site of the insertion.
Epidurals are generally very safe procedures and severe complications are exceedingly uncommon. However, there are some lingering effects that all moms should expect if they received an epidural during their pregnancy.
Common Side Effects
As the epidural wears off after the delivery, you will experience some back cramps and vaginal pain. It's also common to have a small bruise and sore skin in that area. However, both these effects rarely linger for more than 1-2 days after the birth. In the meantime, ice usually helps deal with the soreness.
On some occasions, the needle from the epidural pierces the spinal cord which can cause splitting headaches if left untreated. If this side effect arises, you should discuss treatment with your physician.
Since an epidural numbs your nerves from your belly button to your upper legs, the nerves that allow you to control your bladder will also be numb. You may also require a tube to be inserted to empty your bladder. As the epidural wears off, you will also regain bladder control.
Low Blood Pressure
14% of women who receive an epidural will feel a drop in their blood pressure, but most experts say it's rarely a cause for concern. An epidural numbs the nerve fibers that control blood vessel muscle contractions. The blood vessels then slowly relax which then lowers the blood pressure.
However, if the blood pressure drops too low it can begin to affect the flow of blood to the baby in the womb. To nullify this possibility, most women get IV fluids before they administer the epidural, and their blood pressure is checked throughout the procedure. If your blood pressure continues to drop, you will get some other medication to counteract it.
Rare Side Effects
In 1% of deliveries with epidural injections, the needle from the epidural pierces the spinal cord which can cause splitting headaches if left untreated. If this side effect arises, your physician may advise you to use caffeine and fluids to slowly relieve the pain. If it persists, they may administer an epidural blood patch. A small amount of your blood will be injected into the hole where the epidural was injected and when the blood clots, the hole in the spinal cord will close and this should cease your headache within 1-2 hours.
On rare occasions, the anesthesia can numb the muscles in your chest that control your breathing. This can lead to a degree of slow breathing. However, this is usually temporary and would be monitored by your physician during the delivery.
As with any time you cut an opening in the skin, there is the chance that bacteria might seep in and cause some infection in the skin and can even spread to other parts of your body. This tends to be rare since the needle used for the epidural is usually sterilized before insertion.
In very rare circumstances, an epidural can cause seizures if the pain medication enters one of your veins.
The needle used for the epidural can sometimes hit a nerve which could lead to temporary and sometimes permanent loss of feeling across your lower body. Nerve Damage can also occur if bleeding occurs too close to the area of the spinal cord. According to the American Society of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, this condition only occurs in roughly 1/4000 to 1/200,000 people who receive epidural anesthesia. However, if you feel a numbing sensation after your epidural, let your physician know right away.
Common myths about Epidurals
Will epidural anesthesia harm the baby?
The amount of medication from the epidural that reaches the baby is very small and there is no evidence to say it causes any physical or neurological harm to the baby.
Can epidurals slow the labor process or necessitate a C-section surgery?
There is also no evidence that the epidural will slow the labor process. When a woman cannot push the baby through the birth canal and requires a C-section, usually the issue has to do with the size of the baby, slow labor progression, or some other medical condition. Even though an epidural does numb the pain, it in no way affects the control you must push your baby through your birth canal. If anything, epidurals are believed to hasten the labor process, not slow it down.