Have your friends’ stories put you off considering an epidural? We separate fact from fiction. By Kim Bell
An epidural is considered to be one of the most effective, safest and widely-used forms of pain management for women in labour, reports the American Society of Anesthesiologists. However, a 2014 study revealed that many misconceptions remain. “My own mother didn’t want me to have an epidural because she thought it would hurt my baby, but when I showed her the overwhelming scientific evidence that it was safe for me and my baby, she felt good about my decision,” commented lead author of the study, Dr Paloma Toledo, an obstetric anaesthesiologist.
Did you know? More than 60% of labouring women use an epidural, spinal or combined spinal-epidural anesthesia.
Dr Toledo, who is the assistant professor of anaesthesiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in the US, shares the facts behind the myths:
Myth: An epidural can harm my baby
Fact: While a number of women believe that an epidural may be harmful, or may even cause cerebral palsy, no evidence supports these concerns. “Additionally, the amount of medication that reaches the baby from the epidural is so small, it doesn’t cause harm.”
Myth: Epidurals can cause permanent back pain, or even paralysis in the mother
Fact: Serious complications from an epidural, including paralysis, are extremely rare. “Some women have discomfort in the lower back (where the catheter was inserted) for a few hours or days after the epidural, but it doesn’t last,” says Dr Toledo.
Myth: Having an epidural will slow down my labour, or increase my risk of having a C-section
Fact: Dr Toledo says that there is no credible evidence that shows an epidural will slow down your labour, or increase your risk of having a C-section. “If a woman has a C-section, other factors are usually at play, including having a large baby or slow progression of labour due to other issues,” she adds. Interestingly, research shows that in some women, having an epidural may speed up the first stage of labour.
Myth: You have a limited window-period in labour to have an epidural
Fact: “You can get an epidural any time during your labour – in the beginning, the middle, or even towards the end,” says Dr Toledo.
Myth: If I have an epidural, it will affect my birth experience
Fact: Often, women will be concerned that your legs will be numb, and you won’t be able to walk, feel the contractions, or know to push. “In fact, your legs should not be so numb that you don’t feel them,” says Toledo. She adds that epidural procedures have improved significantly in the last 20 years, and you’ll receive enough medication to relieve the pain, without taking away your ability to move. Secondly, epidurals shouldn’t make you feel groggy. “You’ll be able to feel contractions – they just won’t hurt – and you’ll be able to push effectively.”
Myth: I have a tattoo on my lower back, so I can’t have an epidural
Fact: Research on tattoos and epidurals is limited. However reports of concerns linked to epidurals and lower back tattoos are rare. If you do have a tattoo, your doctor will look to insert the needle through skin that isn’t tattooed.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday. You can learn more about Kim Bell here.