Epidural Anesthesia- Worth the Risk?
By Danielle Griffin
So you’re pregnant! It seems that one of the first things that a woman thinks about upon finding out she is pregnant is the pain of childbirth. It’s the first thing that popped into my mind when I found out I was pregnant with my first son. It seems that it is brushed aside quite easily though, once we remind ourselves that we have the option of epidural anesthesia. It’s safe, and everyone gets one, right? Wrong. If you find yourself considering an epidural, please make sure you are fully aware of all risks and side effects associated with it before committing to the decision of having one.
An epidural is a drug cocktail of opioids that is administered into the ‘epidural space’ which is a part of the spine. It causes a loss of sensation and a loss of pain by blocking the nerves near the spinal cord.
Women who receive an epidural are more likely to experience a longer labor, increasing the likelihood of them receiving pitocin to augment labor.
Pitocin highly increases the risk of the baby showing signs of distress (depressed fetal heart tones, decreased oxygen, etc) as well as possible mal-presentation, which can lead to a cesarean birth.
Epidurals increase the risk of a posterior baby not rotating (due to the mother being confined to the bed and unable to labor in different positions), which increases the risk of cesarean section.
The mother will almost certainly be given a bladder catheter which can cause bladder infection.
There is the possibility that your epidural will have ‘block failure’ leading to no pain relief whatsoever (statistics state this is a 1/20 chance).
When it comes time to push, the mother cannot feel the ‘urge’ that she would feel naturally, increasing the risk of vacuum and/or forceps extraction, as well as cesarean section.
There can be loss of function of the sympathetic nervous system, which can cause respiratory paralysis in the mother (which would also cause lack of oxygen to the baby).
Epidural has been known to cause cardiac arrest (although quite rare).
Opioids in the epidural cross the placenta and get to the baby causing it to be drowsy and disassociated following birth. This can severely disrupt the breastfeeding relationship.
All women go into motherhood with the best of intentions, and yet I see so many that do not research their childbirth. An unmedicated childbirth is an amazing and beautiful thing. It’s a rite of passage and something you will truly never forget- and not only that, it’s completely doable!!!! Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time! During an unmedicated childbirth, your body releases endorphins, which is nature’s pain killer. Your brain will also release a chemical called oxytocin (the love hormone). The release of oxytocin causes your uterus to contract, and it also initiates the bonding process with your baby. The baby being more alert after birth will help to cement the breastfeeding relationship more quickly which helps with bonding. Oxytocin and endorphin production are blocked when you receive medication.
On the flip side of things, there is a time and a place for epidural anesthesia in my opinion. I believe if a laboring mother is at a point where she is exhausted from a very long and drawn out labor, an epidural may be what she needs in having a successful vaginal birth. There are exceptions to everything of course. I encourage you all to do the research yourself and see what you come up with.
If you wish to have an unmedicated childbirth, consider taking action ahead of time! Consider hiring a midwife in a birth center or for a home birth. You drastically reduce your chances of asking for anesthesia if there’s none around! Hiring a doula will also reduce your chances of epidural in any situation. According to Childbirth.Org, having a doula will reduce your risk of requesting an epidural by 60%. I also strongly encourage childbirth education classes where you can learn coping techniques for your birth.
Above all, have a beautiful birth and make it exactly what you want it to be.