Understanding the Epidural

March 9, 2008

Statistics today show that approximately 70 percent of women have an epidural during birth.  How many of these women actually know the advantages and disadvantages of the medicine that they are receiving?  It is very important, when embarking on something as special as delivering a baby, to have all of the facts.  Know the advantages and disadvantages of using an epidural before the pain hits, and consider the choices carefully before making any decisions.

Why So Many Women Love the Epidural

An epidural is a shot that is administered by an anesthesiologist directly into the lower spine of the woman.  If a woman requests an epidural, she must wait for the anesthesiologist to arrive.  He or she will explain the procedure. The process takes about 15 minutes to complete.  A shot of local anesthetic is injected into the lower back to create a numb area.  At that site, a needle with a catheter is placed in the lower back.  The needle is removed and the catheter remains for the medications.  The medications are brought into the woman's body through the catheter and they will provide pain relief within minutes, which should last through the labor.  Most women who use an epidural are very happy with it, and find that it does an amazing job at relieving her labor pains.

So, What are the Disadvantage of an Epidural?

There are disadvantages, however, to using an epidural, and it's important to know about these before making a decision.  About 1 percent of women who use the epidural experience severe headaches that can last for weeks after delivery.  Some women feel itchy as a result of this pain relief method.  It is very common for labor time to increase as a result of this medication, and for extra interventions to become necessary.  Such interventions could include having pitocin, having a forceps  delivery and having a Caesarean section.  Some women who use an epidural can't pass urine.  If this occurs, then a catheter has to be used to empty the bladder.  For women who want to be mobile during labor, an epidural is definitely a disadvantage. Women are required to be connected to an IV and a monitor once they have an epidural, and they need to move with their equipment, if they move at all.  Finally, some women get a fever from the epidural which could lead to a faster baby's heart rate.  This may cause the mom or the baby to need antibiotics and to be screened for infections.

Many of the disadvantages of taking the epidural are associated with early labor.  The longer that the woman labors on her own, the better off she will be.  For this reason, even if a woman plans to take the epidural, it's definitely recommended that she be equipped with some natural coping methods for early labor.  She may even find that she can complete the labor without any intervention. 

For more information about epidurals, read the articles entitled "About Epidurals" and "Epidural Anasthesia".

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