The subject of epidurals is one that should be taken up with your obstetrician long before you have your baby. No matter what you decide prenatal make sure that you leave plenty of room for your wishes to change when the time arrives. An epidural is a local anesthesia that is administered to the epidural region of the spine (lower back) to help eliminate pain from labor pains and contractions. Most doctors administer an epidural when a woman is in active labor with progression so that it will eliminate the pain of childbirth. Although it blocks the pain, women are still able to feel contractions and push their baby when instructed by a birthing partner. The main goal of an epidural is to leave the mother more comfortable and relaxed during childbirth. The procedure carries both risks and benefits to both mother and baby. It is by far the most common form of pain control used for labor and delivery.
An epidural is given by an anesthesiologist. Always! It cannot be given by an OBGYN unless they are also an MD in anesthesiology. Most hospitals keep one of these doctors on staff at all times. Before they give you the epidural, they will usually help you understand the procedure and what they will do during the process. During an epidural, a small piece of hollow and flexible tubing, called a canula is placed so that you have immediate access to an IV drip. This is precautionary. From there most doctors have you lie sideways or sitting up on the bed. They will localize and clean the area as well as use a skin numbing lotion to prepare you for the epidural. When they find the epidural space in your back, a small flexible tube is pushed through a needle administering the temporary anesthetic. Within a half hour, the numbing effect will start. The tubing for the epidural remains in place until your OBGYN deems that it is safe to remove.
The epidural allows doctors to control the amount of pain medication that you receive. If it becomes evident during labor and delivery that you are in too much pain more medicine can be given. They also allow the patient to push a button every hour to get more medicine should they need it. In most people, the epidural works effectively.
The benefits to an epidural can make the experience of having a baby much more relaxing. Many women are afraid of giving birth and knowing that they will have pain relief, can put them at ease. Because of the way the drugs are administered, limited amounts reach your baby during labor and delivery. Additionally, the epidural can help t reduce blood pressure during labor and delivery, which is very important and often elevated by pain and distress. Other advantages to an epidural is that it is a temporary lasting treatment, which means you will be able to move about shortly after your baby is born. Most women can walk within a few hours of labor and delivery, although this varies depending on the amounts of medication received.
There are many people that are frightened of the epidural, having heard tons of horror stories about the after effects and possible results it could have on your baby. Generally, they are safe. One of the disadvantages can be that blood pressure is lowered too much during labor and delivery, which can make you feel nauseated and dizzy. Another side effect is that some women develop headaches or backaches after the epidural (some for months) as a result of spinal fluid in the spine. Normally, this can be treated without a problem. Another disadvantage however is that labor and delivery can take a stall. The pain medication sometimes causes women to cease labor progression, which means that a C-Section or having a forceps aided delivery could be imminent. Many women, upon receiving an epidural end up having to have an IV drip with labor inducing medications designed to help speed up labor. This can also have side effects on the mother and the baby which needs to be taken into account.
In all aspects of labor and delivery, there are benefits and disadvantages. It is important for mothers to be to remain informed of their choices during all stages of pregnancy. While you may make decisions about what you want and have specific desires for pain medication or not the real decision cannot be made until you are in the moment. For many women, a natural birth is something that they covet and too much medical involvement stymies the experience and can cause emotional upset during and afterwards. For others, the fear of giving birth and the stress involved can cause more damage during labor and delivery than going without relief. In other words, it is a personal decision that only you can make. When you base your choice on information about the risks and benefits you will be able to have a birthing experience that you feel positive about afterwards.