Epidural pain medication is the most popular choice among women in labor and delivery. The medication is delivered through a spinal catheter and can be adjusted based on the pain level the woman is experiencing. Epidural catheters stay in place until the baby is born, and at times after birth to control post pregnancy pain.
Benefits of an Epidural
The benefit of choosing an epidural for labor and delivery is the constant stream of pain medication that can be delivered. Unlike the spinal block, which is a onetime pain medication dose, the amount of medication can be increased or decreased as needed. With an epidural, the woman is 100% awake during labor and delivery and mental awareness remains intact. Mom can listen to the doctor, understand all commands and push as needed.
Negatives of an Epidural
The only negative to choosing an epidural during labor and delivery is the time needed for the pain medication to fully work. Typically it takes an hour or longer for an epidural to reach peak performance. If the woman is in the advanced stages of labor, there may not be enough time to administer the epidural with any effectiveness.
Epidurals also present a slight health risk to some women. A sudden drop in blood pressure is not uncommon. For the mom suffering from pregnancy related high blood pressure or preeclampsia, this may not be an issue. If blood pressure numbers are normal, the sudden drop can leave the woman in a dangerous situation; IV fluids are given the entire time she is taking the epidural to prevent this drop in blood pressure. Medications to raise blood pressure can also be administered through the IV.
Effects on the Baby
The effects of an epidural on baby are linked to the birthing process and not directly to the baby’s health. In some cases, women who choose an epidural may be more likely to need an assisted birth via vacuum or forceps. There is also the increased risk of having a C-section versus vaginal birth.