Labour pains – those two most dreaded words in every pregnant woman’s mind. Much has been made out of the pain of labour – thanks to old wives tales and labour room gossip. Most women fear labour to the extent that it almost robs them of the joy of giving birth. But today, modern pain management techniques like epidural blocks can make an otherwise painful experience more comfortable. Though many women get through labour without pain medication, there are others who request an epidural block as pain-relief during labour. But again, there several are others who would like to opt for an epidural but are uncertain, because they have several questions and doubts lingering in their mind. Being clued in will help you decide better. Here’s all that you need about epidurals.
What Is An Epidural?
An epidural (also known as an Epidural Block) is a type of regional anesthesia that provides continuous pain relief during labour and delivery. It blocks the pain of labour, though the woman can feel the contractions. With an epidural, the expectant mother can stay comfortable and be fully awake while giving birth.
How Is An Epidural Given?
The epidural injection is given in the lower back. Before giving you the injection, your back will be cleaned with a cold liquid. Then a hollow needle will be inserted into the area just outside the membrane covering the spinal cord (called the epidural space). A slender catheter is then pushed through the needle, after which the needle is slowly removed. A local anesthetic will be administered through this tube to numb the nerves in your lower back which carry the pain signals from the cervix to your brain. The amount of medication can be regulated according to your needs.
How Long Before It Starts Working?
Once the epidural is given, the nerves in the uterus begin to numb in a few minutes. However, you will find the effect only after 10-20 minutes. As your labor progresses you will be continuously monitored to see if you need extra medication. In case the epidural wears out after an hour or two, you may need a top up
When Is The Right Time To Take The Epidural?
Earlier, health consultants would wait until a woman went into active labor pain before administering an epidural, as they believed it would slow down her contractions. But now the trend has changed, and it is given whenever you ask for it.
If you’ve made up your mind that you’re going in for an epidural, you can ask for it as soon as you reach the hospital. However, you can wait and watch until you no longer can tolerate the pain. Unless your baby’s head is crowning, you can go ahead with the epidural.
Does It Have Any Side Affects?
Epidurals may have mild side affects, but not all women may experience it. Some of the side affects include headaches, shivering, weakness, a sudden drop in blood pressure and numbness in the legs and feet. However, these are very common side affects and there’s nothing overly to be concerned about.
Will It Have An Impact On Labor?
If you have the epidural early on during labor it may slow down your contractions and lead to a prolonged labor. It may increase your pushing phase of delivery about 20 minutes. Epidurals may also increase the risk of a caesarean delivery, if given during the early stages of labor. The risk is higher for women who are overweight.
Can Anyone Opt For An Epidural?
Epidurals are recommended for all women. If you have abnormally low blood pressure, an skin infection in the spinal area, bleeding disorder or a history of allergy to anesthetics, you will have to refrain from epidurals.
Will It Affect The Baby?
If the blood pressure drops below a certain level, it may hinder the flow of oxygen to the baby. But there’s no need to worry, if you’re on an epidural, you’ll be closely monitored and if necessary, you will be put on drips immediately which will help the pressure to bounce back.
The main advantage of using an epidural block is that it eliminates the fear of pain. It also:
- Helps the expectant mother to stay alert
- Blocks pain in the lower body
- Does not slow down labour
- Can be used for several hours
There are few disadvantages with an epidural. One of the problems is that the pain relief may not be uniform. It could be more effective one side of the body more than the other.
While complications or side effects from epidurals are rare, the following risks are possible:
- Blood pressure could drop during an epidural. This may slow your baby’s heartbeat. To prevent this, you will receive extra fluids through an intravenous (IV) tube
- You may also need to lie on your side to improve blood flow
- It could cause mild itching and fever
- If you’re receiving extra doses of fluids, it could increase shivering
- The epidural injection could cause soreness after delivery. This usually lasts for a few days. An epidural should not cause long-term back pain
- Since it causes numbness, you won’t be able to sense when you’re bladder is full. So, normally a catheter is inserted to drain the urin
- You may get a bad headache – though this is quite rare. If not treated, this “spinal headache” may last for days
- If an epidural is given during the later stages of labor it may affect the pushing process and make difficult for you to push the baby through the birth canal. But since, you’ll be closely watched over, the dosage of medication will be accordingly altered, if this happens
An epidural is not the only solution for labour/ delivery pain. There are other methods of pain-relief too such as a Combine Spinal-epidural (or CSE), a “walking” epidural, nerve block or other tranquilizers. You health practitioner will be able to guide you, before you to take a decision on this
Tips & Tricks
Prunes and dates are known to strengthen the uterus muscles and ease child delivery. They also reduce chances of bleeding that might occur after delivery.
Methi (Fenugreek) induces and eases the child birth during labor by stimulating uterine contractions and reducing the labor pain. However, excess intake during pregnancy could be counter active as it increases the risk of miscarriage as well as premature childbirth.
One of the ways to tell a false labour from a true one is to time the contractions. False labour contractions are irregular and die down with time, while true labour contractions come at regular intervals and are persistent.
Make a checklist of all things you need to take to the hospital and pack them in your bag so that it’s all ready when you need it. Remember to pack the baby’s stuff too like clothes, nappies, blankets, booties and mittens.
To soothe labour pain, place a hot water compress bag (take care not to fill it with boiling water) on the aching areas and massage your back gently.