Epidurals And Pain Relief During Labour

Epidural needleAnyone who thinks that women are the weaker sex has never witnessed childbirth. For most -to be mothers’, labour pains are the biggest fear during pregnancy, even bigger than the fear of not losing excess weight gained during this period (this latter fear takes precedence after the birth of the baby!). There is no use getting all worked up about this, as labour pains are a reality and unavoidable. Today, various options are available for reducing the pain during childbirth. Finding out more about the pain relief options will help relieve your anxiety to some extent.


Pain Relief Options During Childbirth

Every individual is unique and the pain threshold for all women is not the same. Some women may be able to go through labour with just breathing and relaxation techniques, while others may find it impossible to get through the labour without the help of medications to reduce pain. Just remember that you don’t have to be the all-enduring Super Woman during childbirth! It’s natural to feel scared and if needed, don’t shy away from external help.

It is best to discuss various available pain relief options and their pros and cons with your obstetrician before your due date so that you are in a position to make an informed choice. The three major modes of medical pain relief administered during childbirth are:

Local anaesthesia: This anaesthesia is used to numb a particular painful area near the vagina. For instance, it is used to reduce discomfort in case stitches are required in the area. Local anaesthesia does not help ease labour pain much.

Regional anaesthesia (Epidurals): It is administered by an anaesthesiologist and is in the form of either spinal or epidural anaesthesia. This is currently a commonly used method of pain relief during childbirth. In this case, medications are injected in lower back to numb the whole region. Use of regional anaesthesia effectively reduces pain during labour without putting you to sleep. It is also used for caesarean deliveries.

General anaesthesia: It is rarely used during childbirth as it puts you to sleep preventing you from seeing the baby as soon as it is born. It is generally used only in case of emergencies.


The Epidurals – Most Commonly Used Pain Relief During Labour

Presently, one in every four women opts for epidural as it is one of the most effective options for pain relief during labour. Epidural is a type of regional anaesthesia and works on the nerves from uterus and surrounding areas, which are the main source of pain during childbirth. Seems like God designed the process to be painful, but as they say -No pain, no gain’ – and even this pain seems like a small price to pay to get the most wonderful gift of your life, your baby.

For administering epidural anaesthesia the woman is made to sit up and bend or lie on side. Local anaesthesia is used to numb the skin and a hollow needle is inserted in the lumbar region of the spine. A catheter (plastic tube) is inserted through the hollow of the needle and it is taped up securely after removing the needle. The pain relieving medications are administered through the catheter and the drugs start showing effect after 10 to 20 minutes.

Use of epidurals for relieving labour pain has been in practice for about 20 years but over the years the drugs used and their dosage have changed. In early days, use of high dose of the drug caused numbness of the entire lower half of the body, which resulted in longer labour and a need for more medical intervention. New drugs and lower doses used today do not block the nerves of lower body completely allowing you to move, sit up and deliver baby without much medical intervention. Epidural can be given at anytime, from the time labour starts up to the time when cervix dilates completely i.e. the end of second stage of labour. The effect lasts for around two hours and can be supplemented by painkillers and analgesics towards the end.


Why Do Women Prefer Epidurals Over Other Pain Relief Options?

The biggest and most obvious reason to opt for epidural is that it provides effective pain relief during childbirth. It is preferred over other options, as it provides pain relief without causing mental confusion or sedation. Meaning, you will be awake and alert when your child is born. After all, you don’t want to be asleep after all the hard work’s done and it’s time to see your baby’s face! Besides, epidurals also help reduce your body’s response to the stress caused by labour pain, making the process comfortable for you as well as your baby.


What Are The Potential Risks Involved?

Epidural is not an -all perfect’ magic remedy for labour pains, it also has a down-side. Use of epidurals may prolong labour by an hour. It can cause the blood pressure to drop, so a drip needs to be set up as a precaution to give fluids in such a case. As the use of epidural causes loss of muscle tone, more medical intervention in the form of forceps or ventouse may be required in some cases (use of mobile epidural can reduce such instances). In very rare cases, the epidural may not work (!) or work partly and may need to be repositioned. Remember nothing works 100% of the time in the medical world – there are always exceptions!

Another rare scenario is leakage of spinal fluid resulting in a bad headache for some days. Epidurals are commonly believed to cause backaches but recent research suggests that use of epidural does not increase the likelihood of backache (some good news at last). Women who do not opt for an epidural are just as likely to suffer from backache, as those who opt for it.


Don’t Feel Guilty About Pain Relief

For some reason, some women feel guilty about getting pain relief during child birth. This may be due to the notion that women need to experience this pain, but labour pain like any other pain is extremely unpleasant and there is no reason to feel guilty about seeking help from medications. You are the one who has to go through with the labour, so you are the best person to make the decision regarding use of pain relief options.

Famous American film director, journalist and novelist, Nora Ephron once said – -If pregnancy were a book, they would cut the last two chapters – and as this is not an option, the next best thing you can do is get all the possible information on child birth and pain relief, and if needed, go for whatever external help that suits you best. However, don’t forget to discuss this with your obstetrician. Whether you opt for natural methods like simple breathing techniques or an epidural for pain relief, the choice is completely up to you as you are the best judge of what you need. After all, your baby’s birth is a happy time – why feel tortured!


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