Epidural? No, thank you.
I was lucky. No one really questioned my resolve to have a natural unmedicated birth when I was pregnant with my first child (or my second). I’m sure most people were thinking I was crazy. They just didn’t say it. No comments for me like, “You don’t have to be a hero” or “There’s no medal.” I’m very thankful because most women, if they share their plans for a natural birth, especially a first-time mom, will hear something of that sort.
The epidural rate in the United States is high. The majority of us do whatever we can to avoid pain. People misunderstand a woman’s reasons for not wanting pain medication during birth. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that people would react with such thoughts and words.
But it’s very disheartening to a pregnant woman when they do.
I’m hoping that thru this blog I can help people understand why a woman would want a natural birth. Let’s start with Epidurals, since they are so popular!
One of the reasons I wanted a natural birth is because there are side effects and risks with Epidural Analgesia. You don’t hear about them much (if at all) but they do exist. I decided that unless an epidural was medically necessary, I was not going to have one. Just wasn’t worth the risk for me.
- An epidural can cause your blood pressure to decrease. This, in turn, may slow your baby’s heartbeat. Which may lead to the need to deliver your baby quickly, either by forceps, vacuum extraction or cesarean. No thanks. According to studies, a decrease in blood pressure occurs in 30-35% of patients who receive an epidural (not all of these women will end up with assisted deliveries as there are ways to treat the drop, often with more medicine).
- After delivery, your back may be sore from the injection for a few days. However, an epidural should not cause long-term back pain. It’s really fun to be dealing with back pain while taking care of a newborn round the clock and learning how to breastfeed. The good news in all this is that it SHOULD not cause long-term back pain. The bad news is that it could. There are plenty of stories told by women who have experienced long-term back pain after an epidural.
- If the covering of the spinal cord is pierced, you can get a bad headache. If it’s not treated, this headache may last for days. This is rare. It happens to less than 1% of women who receive epidurals. Still, I wouldn’t want to be one of them. “A bad headache” doesn’t even start to describe the pain. My husband had a spinal headache after a spinal tap several years ago. I have never witnessed anyone in greater pain. He couldn’t even stand up straight. I had to help him to the bathroom. He couldn’t feed himself. I can’t even imagine the disaster that would be with a newborn baby. If you want to read more about an epidural headache, click HERE.
- When an epidural is given late in labor or a lot of anesthetic is used, it may be hard to bear down and push your baby through the birth canal. This can also lead to a vacuum extraction, forceps or cesarean delivery. Again, no thanks.
How many women have read the pamphlet that comes with the medication used in the epidural (manufactured by Abbott Labs)?
Local anesthetics rapidly cross the placenta, and when used for epidural, caudal or pudendal anesthesia, can cause varying degrees of maternal, fetal and neonatal toxicity….
Adverse reactions in the parturient, fetus and neonate involve alternations of the central nervous system, peripheral vascular tone and cardiac function….
Neurologic effects following epidural or caudal anesthesia may include spinal block of varying magnitude (including high or total spinal block); hypotension secondary to spinal block; urinary retention; fecal and urinary incontinence; loss of perineal sensation and sexual function; persistent anesthesia, paresthesia, weakness, paralysis of the lower extremities and loss of sphincter control all of which may have slow, incomplete or no recovery; headache; backache; septic meningitis; meningismus; slowing of labor; increased incidence of forceps delivery; cranial nerve palsies due to traction on nerves from loss of cerebrospinal fluid.
There are many other risks associated with Epidural Analgesia that aren’t even touched on in the ACOG book. Some of them are mentioned in the drug pamphlet quoted above. For more information please check out these sites: Birth Resource Network and PainFreeBirthing.com.
It fascinates me that we rush to use medicine to avoid risks to ourselves and babies yet we JUMP at the chance to have an epidural, which carries risk! I suspect that most women either don’t know the risks or are so scared to death of the pain of childbirth that they just don’t care.
I chose a natural birth for other reasons as well. We’ll talk about those in the next few days. Not having an epidural was a starting point for me. It was never really about just not having an epidural. It was about choosing a totally different birth experience.