Honest and real epidural pros and cons are not always easy to come by. I’ve got a list inspired by real women with real experiences on all the pros and cons regarding having an epidural during labor. This long list is a great place to start your research on whether or not you want an epidural while having your baby.
Epidural Pros and Cons
When you’re planning to give birth, a long soul-searching session about pain during labor is in order:
Is there any point to being in pain?
Can labor actually be painless?
How will I feel during labor?
Can I handle the pain that labor brings?
Why should I suffer when I can just get medicine to take all the pain away?
And there is a lot of introspection to be done.
I’m going to talk in another post more about these questions and some of the answers, but here I’d just like to post a list inspired by actual women who have given birth either with or without the epidural that shows the many epidural pros and cons that aren’t listed in the hospital brochure.
Pros to Getting an Epidural
- An epidural might provide some relief from some of the pain associated with labor
- An epidural may help you to “feel like yourself” again during labor.
- An epidural might help you sleep if you are having a particularly long difficult labor.
Cons to Getting an Epidural (in no particular order)
- An epidural might not provide relief from the pain associated with labor, or it might only provide relief from some of the pain.
- An epidural might give you a spinal headache that remains for days or weeks.
- An epidural might cause you to feel uncomfortably itchy as the drugs are wearing off after birth.
- An epidural may not wear off completely for a while so that parts of your body may feel numb for days.
- An epidural might cause you to feel groggy, foggy, and out of it so that you can barely remember your child’s entrance into the world.
- An epidural might cause your baby to feel groggy, foggy, and out of it in their first moments in this world.
- An epidural means you have to deal with the risks (and fears) involved in having a needle near your spine.
- An epidural usually means you also have a catheter inserted in your tender parts which can cause discomfort.
- An epidural might slow down or stall your labor.
- An epidural might mean you can’t feel enough to know when or how to push your baby out.
- An epidural might give you back pain for years following your baby’s delivery.
- An epidural means you probably won’t be able to stand or walk for several hours after delivery, leading to a feeling of being stuck in bed.
- If you are prone to anxiety, an epidural may heighten those feelings as you feel trapped in bed.
- If your baby needs out of room medical care, having an epidural means you cannot walk down to visit your baby.
- An epidural might give you pain and/or hematoma in the injection site.
- An epidural might dull the blissful feeling that often comes with an uninterrupted birth.
- An epidural actually reduces your own body’s production of natural oxytocin, the “hormone of love”, which contributes to feelings of empowerment, strength, and falling in love with your baby.
- An epidural may interfere with the natural bonding that occurs after birth between mother and child.
- An epidural may cause you to feel that you’ve missed out on the experience of giving birth.
- An epidural prevents moving around and using different upright body positions during labor that can help baby to navigate the birth canal.
- An epidural might make your recovery longer and more difficult after birth.
- An epidural might cause you be partially paralyzed and unable to walk for months or years afterward.
- An epidural causes you to be 3 times more likely to need pitocin to augment your contractions which then, in combo with the epidural, may lead to your baby’s heartbeat becoming irregular and necessitating a c-section.
- An epidural may cause your blood pressure to drop which then may lead to increased difficulties for you and/or baby.
- An epidural may cause nausea and vomiting.
- An epidural may cause your temperature to rise and affect your baby’s health and post-birth care.
- An epidural may cause your baby to have difficulty breastfeeding.
- An epidural may cause you to have difficulty breastfeeding.
- An epidural is likely to cause you to be less satisfied with your birthing experience.
What Real Women Say About Epidural Pros and Cons
“No epidural = a flood of powerful birth hormones that give you a natural high! Your sense of time goes away, you’re able to cope with any discomfort as well as feel pleasurable sensations and emotions, and it helps you bond with your baby.”
“In my experience, epidurals do not always work as we expect them to. During one of my own births, I had an epidural that did not work. I regretted it immediately and asked to have it turned off. What a waste. I patiently waited to regain feeling in my legs so that I could move around and get comfortable once again. One of the things I look back on fondly was being able to feel my son’s head slowly coming down and stretching me the right way. I could feel my pushing urges, and it was beautiful! This taught me that my body really could withstand this normal, physiological event.”
-Nicole Todd of Northern Star Doula in Philadelphia
“I had an epidural at each of my 4 births. 2 were wonderful (although 1 was probably unnecessary since that labor was so amazing) and 2 were awful (although 1 probably helped me avoid a c-section since my body just could not relax). When people ask me whether they should get an epidural or not, I say I really don’t know.”
Should You Get an Epidural?
Well, I’ve laid out a pretty comprehensive list of epidural pros and cons. But when it comes down to it, only you can make that decision.
This particular post is based on the comments and experiences of women. However there is plenty of research-based science around epidurals to look through.
If you’re interested in reading more from that perspective, I highly recommend this post by Dr. Sarah Buckley which outlines all the epidural risks and concerns for both mother and baby with many footnotes that lead you directly to the research and studies. I encourage you to check that out.
Epidurals are wonderful tools when used to help a woman have the birth that’s best for her and her baby.
However, no woman should ever feel bullied into getting an epidural or made to believe that epidurals are necessary because birth is just too hard.
My biggest concern is that every woman who chooses an epidural truly knows what she is signing up for.
If you know all the pros and cons, all the risks and benefits, that an epidural offers, and decide that an epidural is what you want, go for it, mama!
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