Epidural Pros and Cons

An epidural is a form of pain relief used in childbirth. The anesthesiologist will come in and place a needle into the lower back, into the epidural space. It does not go all the way into the spinal column. They feed a tiny catheter into the space and remove the actual needle. After that, they can send a numbing agent and pain reliever through the catheter to numb the birth area and relieve the pain.

Choosing to have an epidural may already be a part of your birth plan. It isn’t uncommon for some moms to be ready for an epidural as soon as they are checked into the labor and delivery unit at the hospital. Others may choose not to have an epidural and go through the full experience with no pain relief. It is entirely up to you. This article explains the epidural pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.

Epidural Pros and Cons

Ultimately, the decision to get an epidural is completely up to you. Your doctor will advise you of the risks to you and the baby’s health and also how it can help. To help you, we have compiled a list of some of the epidural pros and cons. Let’s take a look:

Pros of Getting an Epidural

The benefits of getting an epidural can help relieve pain and often help with a few delivery issues such as:

  • Muscle relaxation. If your baby is turned face up for delivery and won’t move through the birth canal, sometimes administering an epidural can relax the pelvic floor muscles enough to help the baby get through. “Sunny-side up” babies often get caught up in the birth canal. An epidural sometimes helps to rotate them.
  • Rest. If you have a long labor and your contractions keep you from getting rest, an epidural can help reduce the pain so you can sleep.
  • High blood pressure. When mothers suffer high blood pressure during labor, an epidural can help bring blood pressure down and reduce the risks of complications.
  • If you need a C-section. If you need to be taken in for a C-section, the anesthesia is already in place and you can stay awake for the delivery. An emergency C-section without an epidural has to be done under general anesthesia where mom is put to sleep for the delivery.
  • Reducing anxiety. Anxiety and stress during labor can slow down labor progress. By relieving the pain, anxiety is reduced and the labor may progress faster.

Cons of Getting an Epidural

If done correctly, epidurals are generally very safe procedures. About 5 to 10 percent of cases do not get enough pain relief. Also, in a very small amount of cases, epidural may go up too high and interfere with breathing. There are also a few downsides you may want to consider:

  • You will be confined to bed. Once you have an epidural catheter inserted, you cannot get out of bed. You will be able to move your legs and push, but the numbing is enough that you will not be able to stand up. If you need to use the restroom, you will be given a bedpan.
  • You may be less able to push. Sometimes you get too numb and are unable to feel contractions and/or push effectively. This happens in about 38 percent of cases. The good news is this effect can be reversed by giving another drug, Pitocin to increase contractions or reducing the amount of medication being given through the epidural catheter.
  • Low blood pressure. Sometimes mom’s blood pressure can drop too low. This can slow the baby’s heart rate and complicate the delivery process. Usually giving IV fluids can reverse this issue, but in rare circumstances may lead to a C-section.
  • You may not be able to pee. An epidural may numb your bladder and you may not feel the need to pee. In this case, they sometimes have to place a urinary catheter inside your bladder.
  • Headache. A very small amount of women may experience a spinal headache with an epidural. These headaches can be severe and last for a period of days to weeks.
  • Fever. Even if there is no infection present, sometimes an epidural can cause a fever. This leads to treatment with antibiotics and the baby may be sent to NICU for antibiotic treatment after birth just to be safe.

Click here to learn the complete comparison chart between Epidural and natural birth.

When Should You Not Get an Epidural?

Not all women are candidates for an epidural. Your doctor will let you know if you are at risk for complications and discuss other options. Risk factors that prevent epidural include:

  • Women on blood thinners
  • Low platelet count
  • Acute bleeding with low blood pressure
  • Active infection in the body (raises risk of meningitis)
  • Less than 4 centimeters dilated (causes labor to slow down)
  • Delivery is imminent

The pros and cons of epidural also depend on a mother’s own choices for childbirth. There are two types of childbirth--Natural Childbirth and Assisted Childbirth. Here are the differences:

Natural Childbirth – Is where the mother wishes to deliver completely natural with no pain relief. Mothers choose to use natural techniques for relief includingmeditation, deep breathing, massage, and different labor positions.

Assisted Childbirth – Is where the mother chooses to use a pain relief method to assist with labor. This includesepidural anesthesia, or other pain relievers intravenously that will relieve pain but not harm the baby. Other medications that can be used for pain relief are outlined below.

Other Medications/Injections Used for Labor and Delivery

Having an epidural is not the only option for pain relief. There are other pain relief options that include narcotic medications that are given intravenously during labor. They work right away and slowly wear off prior to delivery. Medications include Stadol, Nubain, Demerol, Fentanyl, and Morphine. Along with the pros and cons of an epidural, these medications have their own.

Pros with Narcotics

These types of drugs lower the pain perception in the brain and allow the mother to relax for up to six hours during labor.

Cons with Narcotics

Pain does not completely go away. There can be side-effects in both you and baby that includerespiratory issues, nausea, and drowsiness.

Mayo clinic explain pros and cons of all the medications or injections used for labor, including spinal block, local anesthetic injection, pudendal block and tranquilizers.