Many pregnant women, especially those giving birth for the first time, have questions about pain management. A big question we get asked is whether or not you should get an epidural during labor.
It’s important to understand the risks and benefits of all pain management options. Discussing your options and concerns with your OB/Gyn prior to delivery helps you to be as prepared as possible, and ensures whichever pain management option you choose fits with your birth plan preferences.
In this post we discuss labor and delivery pain management options, when you can get an epidural, and alternatives to epidurals or medication.
Pain Management During Labor and Delivery
A quickly approaching delivery date can become a bit intimidating for mothers, and finding pain relief during labor is a common concern.
The level of pain experienced during labor and delivery varies for every woman and involves several factors, including:
- The size and position of the baby
- The strength of contractions
- The woman’s level of comfort with the labor and delivery process
There are two basic types of pain management when giving birth: medication and a ‘natural’ method (no medication).
There is no right or wrong way to manage pain during labor and delivery, and it should be a choice made by each woman depending on her preferences and advice from her obstetrician.
Pain Relief Medications for Labor and Delivery
Labor and delivery pain medications fall into two categories: analgesics and anesthetics.
Analgesic Pain Medications
Analgesics relieve pain but do not cause complete loss of feeling or muscle movement. They reduce pain but do not completely remove it. There are two types of analgesics – systemic and regional.
Systemic analgesics affect the entire nervous system as opposed to a single area and are often used in early labor and not immediately prior to delivery.
Regional analgesics alleviate pain in one region of the body only. An epidural and spinal block are two examples of regional analgesics.
Anesthetic Pain Medications
Anesthetics block all feelings of pain. General anesthesia induces sleep (like during surgery), and local anesthesia blocks pain from a part of the body while keeping you awake during the labor and delivery process.
Alternative to an Epidural: All-Natural Birthing Options
Some women prefer to give birth, if possible, without the use of pain medication. There are a number of ways to do this, including:
- Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, biofeedback, and music therapy
- Taking a bath or shower
- Acupuncture or acupressure
- Use of a birthing ball
- Emotional support from a loved one or partner
- Moving or changing positions frequently throughout labor
Should I Get An Epidural?
The most common form of pain management is epidural anesthesia. More than half of women use this form of pain management when giving birth. Pain management is a personal choice, however, and it’s important to choose the method that works best for your particular situation.
Benefits of an epidural include:
- The medication only affects a specific area, allowing you to be alert and awake during labor and delivery
- Only a small amount of the medication reaches the baby
- It can be used throughout the entire labor and delivery process
- Once in place, it can also be used to provide anesthesia should a c-section be necessary
- An anesthesiologist has control of the type, amount, and strength of the medication
Risks of an epidural include:
- It is necessary to sit still for 10 to 15 minutes with the epidural is put in, and for 20 minutes after the epidural is applied
- It can cause a drop in blood pressure, requiring consistent blood pressure checks
- Epidurals can cause headaches in some women (less than 1%)
- Epidurals can have side effects like ringing in the ears, shivering, backache, nausea, or difficulty urinating
- It can make pushing more difficult during delivery
It is important to consult with your Ob/Gyn about the risks and benefits of using an epidural for labor and delivery before making a decision about whether it is right for you.
When Can you Get an Epidural During Labor?
The short answer is: whenever the woman wants it. In the past, it was thought that epidurals may slow contractions and some OB/Gyns prefer to wait until active labor before inserting it. However, recent studies have shown that whether an epidural is applied early or late into labor does not have a meaningful effect on the labor and delivery process.
Does Getting an Epidural Hurt?
The actual insertion time of the needle to provide epidural anesthesia is very quick and should not produce a lot of pain. However, the setup process can be accompanied by some discomfort or pain, as it requires sitting still for several minutes both before and after the epidural is inserted, which can be difficult during active labor.
Every labor and delivery experience is different, so even if you have successfully used one form of pain management for a prior pregnancy it does not mean you have to use the same method for subsequent ones.
You know your body best, so do your own research and consult with your Ob/Gyn to discuss your options and decide which method will work best for you.
Are you looking for an OB/Gyn you can trust? Do you live in the Tucson area? Let us partner with you to help you achieve true health and wellness. Book an appointment today!
- What is an Epidural | American Pregnancy Association
- What are the options for pain relief during labor and delivery? | NICHD – Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (nih.gov)
- Epidural for labor: What is an epidural, epidural side effects, and more | BabyCenter