Epidurals are one of the safest and most widely used forms of pain management for people in labor around the world. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, about 60-70 percent of laboring patients choose to get an epidural annually.
But, let’s be honest, in today’s climate, where we question every last thing we put into our bodies, epidurals seem to get a bad rap (even though they were game-changing for most of the Babe team).
So, because we’re all about keeping it real over in Babetown, we’re breaking down the top epidural myths and debunking them. Because to us, science wins. Just remember, choosing a labor pain relief method is a personal decision that you get to make. It’s entirely your choice with no judgement anywhere in sight. As we like to say, you do you!
Myth: Getting an epidural might harm your baby.
Most drugs, even your basic pain reliever, can potentially cross the placenta and affect the baby. But research has shown that the amount of medication that enters your bloodstream and the baby’s when you have an epidural is quite low. Plus, studies have shown that getting an epidural does not negatively affect the baby’s Apgar scores (newborn functional testing). It also doesn’t increase the risk of needing neonatal intensive care.
Myth: Any laboring person can get an epidural.
For the most part, nearly every patient is eligible to receive an epidural, but there are a few exceptions. An epidural might not be recommended for patients with certain health conditions, like bleeding disorders or specific conditions that require blood thinners. Also, if you have a history of severe brain or spine problems, that’s something to flag and bring up with your medical provider.
Myth: If I get epidural, I’m at a higher risk of a c-section.
Several studies have shown that getting an epidural does not increase the chance you’ll need a c-section. Previously, doctors thought epidurals may increase your risk of a forceps delivery, but more recent evidence has suggested that’s no longer true.
While the epidural should block most of the pain of labor, it should not complicate labor or prevent you from pushing. Epidural medication will not cause fetal distress, nor cause the baby to “get stuck.” When this happens, it’s likely that the situation would have occurred regardless of whether the patient had received an epidural.
Myth: Labor will take longer if I get an epidural.
Getting an epidural has no effect on how long the first stage of labor takes. Some research suggests the pushing stage might be a bit longer if you are more relaxed and pushing is less urgent, but it’s mostly minutes, not hours. Advancements in epidurals over the last 20 years have allowed doctors to control pain without making laborers feel weak. You’ll be able to feel pressure from contractions, minus the pain, and you’ll still be able to push.
Myth: Epidurals cause prolonged back pain after delivery.
After any injection, from a flu shot to an epidural, you’ll likely feel some pain and swelling at the injection site, which should resolve within a week. The more likely culprit is that your body is sore from the pregnancy and delivery experience, and the constant bending and lifting required for newborn care.
Myth: The injection might cause nerve damage or paralyze me.
Pushing and positioning during labor can cause temporary injuries, such as nerve compression (a “pinched” nerve). Pushing is a very physical, stressful body event that can cause swelling and nerve irritation. While it’s not impossible, permanent nerve damage or paralysis is extremely unlikely – estimated at less than 1 in 240,000 patients. Even in these cases, temporary damage is extremely rare.
Myth: Getting an epidural is failing at ‘natural’ childbirth.
Labor pain is beyond intense. Choosing an epidural is not a failure. It’s a choice to help you stay calm and focused, which is so important for a successful delivery. There are plenty of things to worry about as a parent. Relieving your pain shouldn’t be one of them.