It’s relatively common knowledge that an epidural is an effective and popular method of pain relief for women who are in labor. The epidural is administered through a small catheter in the back, and the medication is pumped into the spinal membranes until the baby has been delivered successfully. While 50% of women in labor elect to have an epidural, the side effects are not usually well known. This is partly because they are minor, and when in the active stages of labor, women have little time to think about a medication’s side effects. However, if you start to experience any strange sensations during birth, it might help put your mind at ease if you know what they might be caused by. 

Usually, the doses used for an epidural during labor are small, so your side effects won’t be very significant at all. Unless you are having a rare allergic reaction, you probably will not notice any side effects from the medication. If you do, you’ll probably feel an overall relaxation of your muscles that might seem uncomfortable at first. When your muscles are relaxed, it might seem harder to breathe. Don’t worry if you feel this way, because your lungs are still working just as effectively and it is purely a sensation. The epidural might also completely eliminate the sensation that you need to urinate. Urinating during labor is nothing to be ashamed of, but your doctor or nurse might give you a catheter for your bladder just to keep things clean during the delivery. You might also be unable to feel the muscles in your legs, which will make standing difficult. Not that you’ll want to get up and run around right after delivery, but you should ask for assistance in the event that you need to stand. Some women report itching in the legs as the epidural medication starts to fade away, which is actually a common side effect of many large doses of local anesthetics. 

The possible side effects of an epidural should not prevent you from getting one. They will be minor compared to the other strange sensations your body will be going through during childbirth, and they are preferable to the extreme pain of labor if you don’t mind consuming the chemicals during your birth. Epidurals are safe and effective in relieving pain during labor, and the side effects are minimal. 

Source: Anu Jaitley et al: A Comparison Between Epidural and IV Tramadol for Painless Labor and Effect on Perinatal Outcome. The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of India Volume 61 Issue 1 pp. 42-47 2011