The Epidural: Making an Informed Decision

Pregnancy, Birth & Babies

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Yay for a new year and getting back to the swing of things and regular schedules! That is, after getting my family over all the yucky sicknesses making the round this winter…it’s been like Pukefest 5000 around here. 🙁

Now back to one of my favorite topics…birth! And on to the second installment of my series on this wonderful topic.

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You can read the first post in the birth series HERE, written about c-sections and chock full of information that any expectant mother should know, not just those expecting to deliver surgically.

This time, I’ll be talking all about epidurals: the what, the how and the why. I strongly believe that each birth is as unique as the baby and mother and no one can tell you how and where to best give birth. My goal for this birth post is to impart some great information about epidurals so that you can make the best choice for YOU. And so that you can be confident enough in your choice to defend it, if necessary. (Meaning, to your medical staff, not your neighbor. We should never feel the need to defend our personal decisions to critics!)

The WHAT: An epidural is a form of pain relief administered to a woman in active labor. It involves inserting a needle into the spinal column, threading a catheter (plastic tube) through the needle and then removing the needle. The catheter remains in the woman’s back for the duration of labor and can then be used to administer narcotics or other drugs to reduce or eliminate pain and feeling to the lower extremities.

Depending on the type and amount of drugs administered, some women can move their legs and still feel some pain or feeling with an epidural, while others experience a complete loss of sensation below the site of the catheter. (This latter scenario means no walking around during labor and necessitates a urinary catheter).

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HERE is a fabulous medical article regarding epidurals. It talks all about the definition, administering, pros, and cons of this type of anesthetic.

Ok, enough medical mumbo jumbo…what most moms-to-be want to know is, “Should I get one??”

That’s a very personal decision that no one can make for you. Most women feel very powerfully about whether or not they need pain relief so I’ve found that it’s not always a great idea to ask for others’ advice on this one 🙂

In the end, you just have to do your own research and follow your heart. The main POSITIVE to an epidural is that they allow mom to get some rest! Some labors are just long and brutal and there’s no way around them but through. Thank goodness for modern medicine in these situations!

A few of the NEGATIVES include potential side effects of the narcotics, difficulty in pushing baby out (or going to the bathroom) if the epidural eliminates all feeling, possible nerve damage, and a higher likelihood of more interventions (like the need for forceps or possibly a cesarean).

I’ve found that many women like the idea of trying to labor without an epidural, but they either don’t know how to prepare for natural childbirth or there’s simply a lot of fear surrounding the possibility.

The best advice I can give to eliminate fear and prepare for the birth you want, is simply to do research. An epidural can be a lifesaver that makes labor peaceful and easy, although recovery can also be harder with potential side effects. Natural birth means labor will probably be HARD, but the relief afterwards is equally intense and recovery tends to be easier. It’s totally a matter of choice and often not one you can fully make until you’re in the middle of labor.


Women who are completely open to either choice and prepare mentally and emotionally to labor without pain relief are often the ones that are the least fearful. A few of my friends who have had natural births accidentally (i.e. wanted an epidural but didn’t have time) tell me that the worst part is the fear and anticipation, not the pain! If you eliminate that aspect before even going into labor, you will be happy and at peace, no matter what you decide to do.

As a last thought, I have personally really, really loved my natural births, but I am also grateful for the opportunity for anesthetic when I was given pitocin for an induction (pitocin usually makes contractions unnaturally painful) and especially for my c-section! If a close friend asked me what to do, I would recommend preparing for a drug-free birth using positive affirmations as well as relaxation and breathing techniques (I love the hypnobirthing classes and cds). That way, regardless of whether or not you end up using pain medications, you begin labor feeling excited and without fear!

I wrote a post after my first natural birth that describes why I’m glad I chose that route. Read it HERE if you’re interested. Also, if you want to read more about how birth can (and in my opinion, should) be a spiritual experience, read THIS post. It includes a great book recommendation, too.


Good luck in your road to becoming a mother! It’s a beautiful road, regardless of how you get there.

You can read the rest of my posts in the birth series HERE! Including posts on C-sections, VBACs and inductions.

And if you’re looking for an amazing prenatal class, check out this free online course from the awesome Hilary at Pulling Curls!

She’s been a nurse for many, many years and definitely knows her stuff. You can also check out her deluxe online prenatal course HERE, if you’re ready to take your birth prep next level.

(Note: This post should not be considered medical advice. Please consult a licensed OB or midwife for professional prenatal care and advice.)

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