Exposing The Truth Behind Epidurals

The mothers of the world are divided into two sections: the ones who take epidural during child birth and the ones who don’t. What is sad is the fact that even with more than 60% of American women opting for epidural to get relief from labor pain, it is something that is quite misunderstood.

To begin with, most doctors use “epidural” in a more generic sense. It actually encompasses three distinct procedures, including epidurals, spinals, and the more recent combined spinal epidural or walking epidural (CSE).


Most doctors agree that it is inhuman to let patients suffer from severe labor pain and go untreated unless there is compelling evidence that not restraining pain would lead to improved health outcomes for both the baby and the mother.

There is no shame in asking for pain relief during labor. The doctors are not needle pushers, nor are they gaining any benefit from the process. It’s the pregnant woman’s right to choose medicated or unmedicated birth of her baby.

However, before going ahead with either, let’s clear the perceptions regarding epidurals.

1. Epidural And Spinal Are Same And They Hurt

In an epidural, a pain-relieving medication is injected between the vertebrae and the spinal fluid. Taking about 15 minutes to take effect, the medication lasts as long as it is needed.

In spinal, the medication is directly injected into the spinal fluid. If CSE is done, the medication takes 5 minutes to take effect.

In both the cases, the catheter that delivers the drug stays in the back area until the baby is born, which means medication is continuously administered to relieve the mother of any pain.

However, the duration, the potency, and the kind of medication to be given depends on the health of the mother; the final call is taken by the doctor. Being educated about these medications and the risks involved would help in taking the right decision.

2. That Big A Needle Will Definitely Hurt

For both epidural and spinal, a needle is inserted in the back but only for a minute or two. It is through the hollow needle that a catheter is pushed. The catheter injects the medicine.

But before all this happens, the area is numbed with a local anesthesia. So what you would feel is just the pressure and not the pain.

Some women think that the needle stays there, throughout the labor. What is retained is the cannula (part of a catheter) mainly because there needs to be continuous infusion of medicine and not just one dose.

3. Problems In Pushing, Need For C-Section, OMG!

One of the major reasons that epidurals have such a bad rep is because most doctors don’t adjust the dosage according to the delivery. This has also led to the increased acceptance of CSE where less medication is given, thereby decreasing the risk of having forceps or vacuum-assisted birth.

However, sometimes, epidurals do increase the chances of C-section. Studies in 2006 revealed that the timing of the epidural affects this to a great extent. If an epidural is given before active labor starts, the chances of C-section increases, whereas if given during active labor, chances of C-section is less.

4. It Will Harm My Baby

Any medication that the mother takes would eventually reach the baby; same with the epidural. But with the epidural, the amount is too less to cause any damage.

In fact, in mothers who received epidural at the right time, the medicine was found to not affect the baby’s health in any way. Other studies have also showed that the babies of women who received pain relief during labor had lesser stress hormones than in those who delivered without pain relief.

5. It Has Serious Side Effects

For a vast majority of patients, epidural is really safe. Complications can occur and they can range from short term (drop in blood pressure) to really far-reaching ones. Other side effects (which are treatable) are nausea and itching.

Another common occurrence is fever, especially if the epidural has lasted for more than 6 hours. One rare complication is the spinal headache, but this occurs in less than 1% of women.

6. It Doesn’t Work

There is very little chance of epidural anesthesia not working. For women who experienced pain despite an epidural, the analgesic amount was probably way too less.

Epidural, spinal, and CSE have lesser risks than other forms of pain relief. Women have these concerns with epidural, but most likely, it is always other issues that lead to more complications.

It’s always best to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your doctor and anesthesiologist before you choose a medicated/unmedicated birth for your bundle of joy.