How far along are you with your pregnancy? If you are in your 3rd trimester, thinking about your labor and childbirth is a regular part of your day. During my 1st pregnancy, 12 years ago, I would often ask how painful childbearing could be. The answer I got varied from one mother to another.
Others said that it was indeed the most painful moment of their life. In contrast, some said the pain is tolerable depending on how much pain your body can tolerate. Honestly, I am the type of person who can usually handle physical pain. However, childbirth is a whole different story.
I wanted to be ready as much as possible because this was new to me. I did not want to decide right then and there whether I would need some medication to alleviate labor pains. So, I discussed the matter with my ob-gyn and she mentioned different pain relief options during childbirth, including painless birth by epidurals.
What is an epidural and how does it work?
The epidural is widely used and is one of the most common forms of pain management during labor and childbirth.
An epidural is a procedure used during labor and childbirth to alleviate the pain or minimize the pain you will feel. It blocks the pain that contractions bring during both your labor and delivery. If you choose to use an epidural, a local anesthetic will be injected into your lower back, specifically into the spaces around your spinal nerve.
How long does an epidural work?
Based on my personal experience, I felt the effect of the epidural almost immediately after it was administered to me. While an epidural can be given to you at any time during labor, I had mine when I was in active labor. I asked for it when the labor pain is too much for me to bear.
An epidural can last around 2 hours after administration. But do not worry. Suppose the situation calls for another round of an epidural, which could happen to moms in labor. In that case, local anesthesia will be administered through a catheter safely placed in your lower back.
The effects of an epidural on mom and baby
Like any other medication, the use of an epidural as labor and childbirth pain relief has its advantages and disadvantages, not only to you, but to your baby as well.
Although the effects are relatively minimal for both you and your baby, it is always best to know what to expect when choosing this as a form of pain management.
The benefits of an epidural
- You get to have a comfortable laboring process since you feel pain relief almost immediately, allowing your body to rest.
- It enables an emotionally positive experience if you have a lower pain threshold.
- Relaxed muscles in the pelvis create additional space for the baby to come down.
- A study shows that the use of epidural as pain relief during labor and childbirth can decrease your risk of postpartum depression.
The downside of an epidural
- Your blood pressure can suddenly drop. Hence it’s monitored throughout your labor and delivery.
- You may have some side effects once your catheter has been removed and your epidural wears off. Some side effects are shivering, nausea, fever, and itching in the area where the catheter is placed.
- The pushing phase with an epidural may be lengthier due to the numbness of your lower body. This could lead to the introduction of other medical interventions such as forceps delivery, episiotomy, or even a C-section.
- You can have incontinence after giving birth. If this happens, you may require a urinary catheter, which is only temporary.
- Although a study suggests the possibility of respiratory distress to your baby, this is still inconclusive considering other research that states otherwise.
The best thing to do is talk to your doctor before your labor begins and discuss the best and safest pain management options for you and your baby.
FAQs about epidurals
Since I’ve had an epidural in 3 pregnancies, I am very open to answering any questions raised by my family and friends about the choice I made.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about pain relief of choice:
- Is it painful to have an epidural administered? For me, it was not painful, but rather uncomfortable, considering I chose to have an epidural during active labor. Just imagine having intense labor contractions while the epidural is being administered.
- What are the usual side effects you have had after the epidural wears off after giving birth? The common side effect I have had for all 3 deliveries is shivering. But it only lasted for less than an hour. My ob-gyn reassured me that this was a normal part of wearing off and monitored until the shivering stopped. Other than that, I have not experienced any other side effects.
- How about walking after an epidural? I was not allowed to walk or even sit on my bed after an epidural. According to my maternity nurse, the lower body can still experience some numbness and you may even feel dizzy. Thus, the slightest move could have been very compromising for me. To be on the safe side, I was only allowed to walk and sit 4 hours after my last epidural was administered.
- Does an epidural delay delivery? The epidural did not delay my delivery; I gave birth within 3 hours after my epidural had been issued. A epidural does not slow down the progress of labor.
The natural vs. medicated birth debate
A natural or medicated childbirth is always presented as options for you. Women like me choose to have medicated birth because the benefits outweigh the downside in my personal perspective. Other mothers choose unmedicated childbirth, perhaps because they want their body’s natural response to labor and delivery.
The bottom line is, when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, there is no single rule that can fit all the needs of all moms-to-be. There are factors to consider when making the critical decision of having a natural or medicated childbirth. You should be considering your overall health (physical and emotional), pain tolerance, and even your baby’s health and position.
You should discuss your choice with your doctor, who will definitely recommend the safest and best option for you and your baby. Be assured that whatever your preference is, there no right or wrong, as long as you have a medical professional on board.