• Paula Schnebelt

Epidurals; friend or foe?

I wanted to cover a topic that I feel most healthcare providers fail to discuss with their clients, particularly those seeking hospital births.

I have noticed that many women have not been educated and informed by their healthcare provider/doctor about the risks of epidurals, and so I am going to briefly discuss them in order to shed some light on the subject. Epidurals are great when they are not overused, and in many cases, relieve the discomfort of a laboring mama long enough for her to get some rest and push through the remainder of the labor. However, many pregnant women go into the hospital planning on receiving an epidural before even considering the risks and possible negative effects on both the mother and the baby, often because these risks are never even mentioned!

For instance, some of the risks associated with epidurals include the following:

  • The cascade effect! It is quite common that the use of one intervention lead to subsequent interventions. With an epidural typically comes the administering of IV fluids, continuous fetal monitoring, possible catheterization, etc.

  • According to MamaNatural, “An epidural blocks uterotonic hormones such as oxytocin which helps your uterus to contract, so labor may slow down. Because of this, epidural use triples your chances of receiving Pitocin.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with Pitocin, it is the synthetic form of oxytocin that is typically administered when labor “isn’t progressing fast/well enough.” Quite often, Pitocin causes very strong contractions and can lead to a laboring mama wanting a second epidural, and then needing more Pitocin, and the cycle continues itself (into a “cascade of interventions”). Pitocin interferes with the body’s production of endorphins, and because Pitocin is synthetic and not regulated by your body or the baby, many women experience intense and frequent contractions that don’t allow mom or baby time to rest. This can prevent the baby from receiving adequate oxygen which can lead to fetal distress and often times, a cesarean if the baby’s heart rate does not recover/improve (MamaNatural)

  • A longer labor; “Epidural anesthesia lengthens the first stage of labor by about 30 minutes and the 2nd stage of labor (pushing) by as much as 2-3 hours” (source)

  • Epidural use doubles mom’s risk of severe vaginal tears and are also more likely to cause fevers in mothers (MamaNatural)

  • A correlation has been found between epidural use and fewer breastfed babies, according to several studies (MamaNatural)

  • Because epidurals interfere with oxytocin production, women are not able to enter the primal birth place and are more aware of pain and can potentially be more fearful of it (MamaNatural)

Lastly, I just want to reiterate that epidurals are a wonderful tool when they are truly needed (which is not too often). However, we need to recognize that epidurals, as a serious medical intervention, interfere with the body’s natural processes and thus, can cause major side effects. Truthfully, birth operates the way it is supposed to almost all of the time when it is left alone. But, for the small percentage of births that need a little extra assistance, epidurals are a beneficial option, although we need to work on improving the discussion with mothers of potential side effects so that they can be prepared and make an informed choice about whether or not an epidural is necessary in their particular situation.


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