epidural -what are the risks

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What risks does having an epidural during birth entail? I have been told that having a natural birth (free from any drugs) is like saying you had a major surgery with no anesthesia- why would you go through that when help is available? I am not pregant and do not plan to become so for a few years, but i am very curious about this. i thank you for your time and response. :)

-- dana elisabeth carmody (davidc@chattanoogalaser.com), February 12, 2003


I just started reading here and saw your post. There are many risks as well as advantages to epidurals. It's a good idea to read and make informed decisions for yourself.

This is a great link that explains the pros and cons.


Personally I have given birth 3 times. I had an epidural once when my labor was not progressing at all. I was having great and painful contractions but was not dilating for hours. I agreed to try pitocin and an epidural before I went straight to c-section and it did help. Having given birth with and without one, I must say that I prefer without. There was a change in my attitude, yes I was out of pain, but it was also like I was out of having a baby. I was more aware of what everyone was doing and not focused on the birth of my child like I was the 2 previous time. I really missed that experience.

I think it's great that you want to educate yourself.


-- Kim Dodson (doula@pobox.com), February 13, 2003.

Dana-I agree that there are risks and benefits to epidurals. I strongly suggest you read a LOT about both. Many people see the word epidural and cringe their nose. Epidurals can be a wonderful thing if used at the right time in the right situation. It depends on the person who is choosing to receive one. Everyone needs to be well educated on their pain relief options in labor. It is up to the patient to decide after they have been well educated on the matter. Epidurals can slow or stop labor, but if given at the correct time in the right situation can speed up and help labor to progress. The prectice I work for had the lowest C/Section rate in the area and the highest VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarian) rate. The majority of our patients opt for the epidural. Given after 5cm I rarely see a c/s as a result. Dont get me wrong, I said RARELY. But people also have failure to progress for other reasons too. Technology and medical advances have come a long way in the past 100 years. We should take advantage and be open minded to all they have to offer. I am not talking about medications alone, neonatal intensive care units, vaccum, STERILE c/sections, especially in a life or death emergency-these shouldnt be looked at as failure in childbirth. These should be considered resources available to help save your baby's life if god forbid something should happen.

-- Eryn Nickerson (ttwhtchildbirth@aol.com), March 15, 2003.

Oh my goodness! Why do women desire natural/normal childbirth? It's not because they are "Amazon" women. It's not because they are stronger than most women (only 20% of women in this country give birth without drugs). Over the weekend I attended a birth in the hospital as a doula for a first-time mom. She had hired me because she really wanted to avoid ALL interventions and give birth without drugs in her and her baby's system. And she did so - after a long 3-day prodromal, posterior labor. WHY??? When she came in she was 8 cm. and the nurse said incredulously, "You did all this at HOME?!" "Yeah," replied the dad (the mother was laboring and unable to answer). "You're a stronger person than I am" the nurse said - like it was a complement. Then she mumbled, "I didn't make if past 4 centimeters..." I wanted to yell! This woman did not decide to do it this way because she's some kind of "Macho-freak". SHE DID IT OUT OF LOVE!!! It is the safest way to give birth. Yes, it's the hardest - especially when walking into a hospital to give birth (where people no longer see you as a normal, healthy woman giving birth to your son or daughter, but see you as a "PATIENT" - as the previous poster clearly demonstrated. Believe me: Semantics Matter!) and yes epidurals have a place. But the vast majority of woman - if they surround themselves with people who love and believe in them and thier ability to do so, can give birth without a tube in thier back or needle in thier arm.

Instead of telling you the risks of epidurals and drugs in labor let me list the advantages of a natural birth for both mom and baby: Natural birth allows a mother a larger range of options in terms of places to birth, positions for birth, the caregiver attending the birth and how the birth is conducted. This allows a woman an internal locus of control (she makes the decisions) vs an external locaus of control (caregiver or hospital makes decisions). Natural birth is medically safer for mother and baby. Anestesia and other interventions present risks to thier health with include: Decrease in maternal blood pressure Decrease in fetal heart tones Decrease in uterine contractility Increase in labor dystocia Increase in need for pitocin augmentation Increase in maternal temperature Decrease in maternal ability to void Decrease in maternal pushing ability Increase in use of forceps for deleivery Increase in need for episiotomy and perneal trauma Increase in need for cesarean section Increase in fetal hypogylcema Increase in maternal/infant seperation Increase in breastfeeding problems Anesthesia headache for mother Increase in seperation from family unit Increase in post-partum pain for mother Nerve palsy or paralysis for mother Natural birth is hard, but a woman's body is designed for this function. When a mother births without drugs, or medical interventions she learns that she is strong, powerful and capable. She learns to trust herslef even in the face of powerful authority figures. Mothers who give birth un-drugged are awashed in a unique hormonal cocktail, designed by nature to instill in her fierce, protective maternal instincts. Mothers who give birth without drugs become more confident in thier abilities to handle LIFE and are more responsible for thier own destinies.

So there you go. I did not just pull this stuff out of the thin air. This comes from Special Women by Paulina Perez, RN and Cheryl Snedekar, RN ,Dr. Michel Odent's The Scientification of Love. For further research I recommend anything by these authors and The Thinking Woman's Guide to Better Birth by Henci Goer.

Good for you for wanting to know more!

-- Lesley Nelson (lesley@doula.net), April 08, 2003.

I had two children without drugs or epideral. Although intense, I LOVED the birth process. Feeling my body "take over" when bearing down, feeling the baby move down the birth canal and crown, being able to walk around right up until time to push. I felt so much a part of the process. I had gone into labor with an open mind -- being willing to have an epidural if necessary. But I found that labor was bearable as long as I was able to stay in control (I could breathe through the contractions if standing or on hands and knees, but if I laid on my back, the pain went through the roof! Do whatever works for you.

I have heard the comparison of labor to surgery. But there goes the idea again that labor is something unnatural and invasive. Nothing is further from the truth! When your time comes, be ready to be flexible, explore all options available to you, and embrace those contractions as the wonderful, mysterious way of finally getting to meet your new little one!

You asked about risks of an epidural. The epidural essentially numbs the nerves in the lower part of your body. This does not affect that baby (as intravenous drugs do) and so is considered by many to be a good option for pain treatment.

-- am shaw (tifjm@cox.net), December 22, 2003.

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