The 7 Biggest Epidural Myths No, it won't harm your baby.

By Babe | Photo by Stocksy

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!

The lowdown on epidurals.

Before we dive into the common myths surrounding epidurals, let’s first understand what an epidural really is. An epidural is a form of regional anesthesia that blocks pain in a particular area, providing significant pain relief for labor pain and during a C-section

Administered by an anesthesiologist, the procedure involves injecting a combination of local anesthetic and opioids or analgesia into the epidural space, the area around the tough coverings that protect the spinal cord in your lower back.

This sounds more alarming than it is — the anesthesiologist uses a tiny epidural needle and a small catheter to deliver the medication, making the process as smooth as possible. The amount of medication used can be adjusted according to the level of pain management required.

Are epidurals safe?

Epidurals have been a long-standing pillar of obstetrics, offering pregnant women an effective option for labor pain management. The epidural medications used are designed to alleviate the intense sensations during labor and birth and can be particularly helpful during a cesarean section. 

Because of this, they play a significant role in shaping the birth experience for many women. It’s also worth noting that the focus on epidurals in pain management isn’t limited to labor and delivery. Epidural injections can also be used to manage chronic back pain, which makes them incredibly versatile in anesthesiology.

However, despite their widespread use and proven effectiveness, epidurals have become the subject of many misconceptions, causing some women to fear the procedure or question its safety. As we prepare to bust the seven biggest epidural myths, remember that every birth plan is as unique as the new baby it welcomes. 

The choice to use an epidural or not lies solely in your hands. So, whether you’re considering an epidural for labor or are curious about its role in managing back pain, let’s set the record straight on these widespread misconceptions.

Myth #1: 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 #2: 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 #3: 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 #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: 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 #7: 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.

Wrapping things up.

And that’s a wrap! We’ve busted the seven most common epidural myths and shed some light on this handy tool in the pain management toolbox. Remember, childbirth is unique for everyone — it’s not a competition, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The choice to use an epidural, like every aspect of your birth plan, is all yours. At the end of the day, the right decision is what makes you feel safe and comfortable.

We hope we’ve cleared up some misconceptions, but if you have more questions, need a friendly space, or just want to share your anticipation or worries, swing by Babe by Hatch. We’ve got a supportive community waiting to help you navigate your journey. So, let’s keep the conversation going, because every birth story matters — and we can’t wait to hear yours.