The Use of Epidural in Childbirth
Today, women have the option to be in control of their own bodies and childbirth processes. The pain women feel during labor is said to be indescribable, and often they end up begging for pain medication. Although there are still several women who have survived and thus support natural and drug-free childbirth, it is every woman's prerogative to choose whether she wants to have an epidural or a pain-free delivery, so as long as she is made aware of its benefits as well as the risks for her and the baby, and the details of the procedure as well as possible side effects and complications, and of course alternatives.
What is an epidural?
An epidural is a medication given to block out pain reception, while allowing a patient to remain awake and conscious. This is important for mothers, because while they do not want the pain associated with childbirth, they wish to remain aware of the birthing process and especially want to see their babies being born.
An epidural is given by injecting pain medicine, also referred to as a local anesthetic, on to the lower back to numb your abdomen down to your legs. After they are administered, epidurals take less than 30 minutes to take effect. It is important that a doctor time the administration of an epidural properly. Giving too early or late will only defeat the purpose of pain relief medication.
What are its benefits and risks to both mother and child?
It is important for a woman in labor to sign an informed consent before undergoing epidural administration. This is so her health provider is assured that she understands the purpose and risks involved in the procedure. Note also, that the doctor may not force an epidural to a woman who does not ask for it, or does not have it in her birth plan.
The main benefit of epidurals is pain relief throughout labor and delivery. Epidurals are quick-acting and effective. They don't affect consciousness and leave a patient wide awake. Also, should a woman need an emergency C-section, an epidural is the best way to anesthetize her prior to surgery.
There are however, many risks involved in the use of epidurals in labor. Women who have had epidurals reported of longer labor, perhaps due to loss of sensation. When women cannot feel the contractions, they also lose the urge to bear down. This is why women on epidurals can end up having an assisted delivery. The doctor pulls the baby out with the help of a vacuum or forceps, often causing marks on the baby's head. Epidurals can be the cause of drop in mother's blood pressure, resulting in the baby's decreased heart rate. You will need to be hooked to an IV to receive fluids, and will have to lie on your side to help baby get more oxygen. Seizures and epidural hypersensitivity are rare risks, but must also be considered.
What are the side effects of an epidural?
Your back will be sore from where the epidural was injected. Also, some women report of severe headaches after the use of epidurals. Babies born to mothers who have had epidurals can present with fetal distress symptoms (their heart rates could become abnormal). Their muscle tone and strength appear poor during the first hours of life, and they are usually drowsy.
Alternatives to Epidurals
When discussing the use of epidurals to women in labor, health providers also walk the women through possible alternatives. Medical alternatives include gas (oxygen and nitrous oxide), which lessens but does not totally eliminate pain; opiates, like morphine, which make you and the baby drowsy; and TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), which involves attaching two electrodes down your back to block pain signals from your womb so that the brain doesn't interpret them as so. Of course, natural alternatives include birth classes like LaMaze or Bradley's, patterned breathing, and meditation.
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