In Calgary, more than half of the people giving birth choose to have an epidural. Known as the Cadillac of pain relief for labor and birth, epidurals can completely take away the pain of labor, allow a tired laboring person to rest, and are what allows the birthing parent to be awake during a cesarean birth!
Benefits of an epidural
- can potentially eliminate all physical discomfort during labor and childbirth
- reduced discomfort may result in a more positive birth experience
- allows you to be awake for a cesarean delivery
- in the event of a long labor an epidural can allow you to get the rest you need
- may help you to relax if you are anxious about your birth
Risk associated with epidurals
- ears ringing
- tenderness at the insertion site
- difficulty urinating
- you may be unable to walk for a few hours after the delivery
- may interfere with breastfeeding
- lack of sensation may cause difficulty when pushing and lead to a higher possibility of assisted delivery (forceps, vacuum assistance, cesarean section, etc)
More serious complications are rare. In some cases (less than 1%), patients have experienced severe headaches that require an additional procedure to correct. Sudden drops in blood pressure may occur and need to be treated with medications and oxygen. If the epidural is incorrectly placed toxic side effects may occur (1 in 2,800) such as slurred speech, extreme drowsiness and convulsions. Permanent and temporary paralysis are very rare and sensationalized risks that can occur. You should speak to your doctor about these risks for more information.
Occasionally, clients come to us after hearing scary stories about new parents dying following an epidural. Death caused by obstetric epidural is very rare, but possible as a result of respiratory failure, heart failure or an epidural abscess.
Further considerations that pose risks or challenges:
- you will need to be at least 4 cm dilated and in active labor to get an epidural
- continuous fetal monitoring will be required
- you will be confined to bed
- you will need an IV and a urinary catheter
Alternatives to an epidural
What does your Intuition tell you about having an epidural?
Need Time or Nothing
"After a previous short and easy unmedicated birth, I was surprised when my labor was long. Eventually, I was exhausted and unable to cope. The epidural allowed me to rest. I began dilating faster, and woke up from napping with an urge to push!" - Jamie Portland*
*name changed for privacy
Image Credit: Aaron Fulkner | Cropped | Licence at creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode