Epidural Anesthesia: Wading Through the Insanity

(cross post from Nurtured Moms)

“I loved my epidural. It gave me the opportunity to sleep for awhile until I had to push. I was well rested and it made the whole experience great, IMO.”

“If you have an epidural, you’re WAY more likely to have a c-section. NO THANKS!”

“It was the best decision I made, no pain!!”

“I decided from the moment I became pregnant, that I would have an epi! I did it … and it was FANTASTIC!!!”

“It’s worth factoring into birth plans that at least 25% of epidurals have negative side effects, many of them very serious. It’s really only designed to be used in an emergency situation when the benefits outwiegh [sic] the many risks. Physiological childbirth isn’t an emergency, it’s what we’re designed for.”

“Millions of women have had epidurals without a problem. Obviously it’s pretty safe!”

If you check out any online birth and labor forum, the subject of pain relief and birth will eventually come up.  All of the above are actual comments I cut and pasted directly from online discussions about epidurals. Women love to compare stories and ask for advice when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Unfortunately, online — and offline, for that matter — discussions are fraught with misinformation and “anecdata.”  Not only that, but while I was researching for this article, I found a lot of online info that was out-of-date, dismissive of the risks, and scare tactics using studies from the seventies and eighties or half-truths. So what’s the real story on epidurals? There is plenty of recent evidence-based information if you know where to find it. I’ve tried to compile the most relevant numbers, statistics, and links to scientific information with as little commentary and snide remarks as possible, so that you can decide for yourself what you think about epidurals. For the record, I have a mild bias towards natural birth, but I also believe that it is wonderful that modern medicine has provided labor pain relief for those women who want or need it.

What IS an epidural, anyway?

What is the evidence related to epidural use in labor and delivery?

What are the risks of an epidural?

What are the benefits of an epidural?

The choice to have intervention like an epidural is entirely up to the woman who is giving birth (and it’s wonderful that women have these choices).  With choice, however, comes the importance of ensuring she is fully informed, and the knowledge that she takes full responsibility for any outcomes of her choices. As such, comprehensive research is essential, and allows a fully apprised decision. I hope this article is a good resource for anyone seeking to be informed!

Major sources (all sources are linked in text)

2 thoughts on “Epidural Anesthesia: Wading Through the Insanity

  1. I had an epidural, and I do think it played a huge role in the c/section I ended up with. That being said, an epidural administered after active labor has started has less risk of stopping dilation. Personally I thought that not being able to move left me feeling very exposed, vulnerable and scared. I hated it and will have any future children at home where I can choose comfortable positions rather than panic inducing medical proceedures. Each to their own

  2. Katattx, why don’t you have your next in a hospital but just not have an epidural? It’s a voluntary procedure. I’ve had three hospital labours, two without any pain medication.

    I genuinely don’t understand the all or nothing?

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