Trying to decide whether or not to take the epidural during labor? Please Don’t Take It! This is what you should know about the risks of the epidural during labor. Do the risks outweigh the benefits of natural birth?
Have you ever wondered whether or not you should have the epidural during labor? I know this is one of the big questions moms often spend a lot of time researching during their pregnancy.
I’ve been through not one, but two, hospital births without an epidural. From the first time I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to have a natural birth. I was driven by the desire to give my unborn baby the best start in life. Getting an epidural (or any other pain medication) didn’t seem like I was offering my baby the best start. Plus, I didn’t want to be robbed of the full experience. This is what I believed best for myself and my baby … my personal choice.
The conversation about pain relief and choosing between epidural vs. natural birth commonly comes up when you’re pregnant. With my first, I can remember numerous comments from women questioning, sometimes mocking, my decision to have a medicine-free birth. And the horror stories… my God, the horror stories women like to tell. It’s as if everyone wants to convince you that you’re unable to birth naturally.It is as if everyone wants to convince you that you are unable to birth (without an epidural) #childbirth #epidural #naturalbirth Click To Tweet
Thankfully, I never let these women get into my head. I read, watched videos, and took a natural birth class with my husband. I made it through these two births without an epidural. It leaves me questioning why so many people believe you can’t make it without one, or any other sort of medical intervention. Let me clarify that I did, in fact, request some pain relief during both labors, though never followed through.
So, why am I telling you not to get an epidural?
Firstly, mainly because many people won’t tell you you’re capable of birthing your baby without it.
If you’re interested in natural birth, but are scared of labor, you’re being conditioned to believe something that isn’t completely factual. Natural birth isn’t all that painful if you’re prepared and know what to expect.
If you’re thinking about taking the epidural during labor because of the horror stories you’ve heard, it’s important to know that another woman’s birth story is her own … it’s not a fact of every birth story. So, if you’re considering an epidural because of the pain your mom, aunt, sister, or whoever else felt, try to put that thought aside.
Their birth, their body.
Secondly, there are risks and side effects associated with birth, both with and without an epidural. And, you’ll likely feel like you need some relief. From everything I read about the risks, I decided it wasn’t worth the relief for myself. Plus, I have faith in you and I truly believe you can do without the epidural during labor.
Is It Safe to Take Epidural During Labor?
As I’m not a doctor, I can’t answer this for you. What I can say is that I did a lot of reading and took a natural birth class to determine that I did not like the risks involved in taking an epidural during labor. Backed by research and information given to me by a former labor and delivery nurse, “safe” didn’t seem to be the word I would use for this.
But, if you’re interested in having an epidural during labor, here are some of the risks and sources cited so that you can make up your own mind.
Risks of Epidural to Laboring Mother
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, risks of epidural blocks and spinal blocks are the same. They include (quoted from the ACOG website):
Although it is rare, an epidural block can cause the following side effects:
Serious complications with epidurals are very rare:
Other Side Effects From Epidural During Labor
Moms may also experience:
- nerve damage (both temporary and permanent)
- infection (although low risk)
- rare complications like breathing difficulties
According to Johns Hopkins, there’s a 10-20% risk of hypotension or low blood pressure from having an epidural during labor.
Side Effects of Epidural on Baby
According to Chris Kresser, the drugs in an epidural can enter your baby’s bloodstream, and your baby will take longer to eliminate these drugs from his system. There’s a chance your baby’s abilities will be decreased as well as increasing issues with his immune system.
A few key takeaways about the side effects of epidural on baby:
- Possibly compromised immune system
- May cause a drop in oxygen and blood supply
- Lower heart rate
- May affect latching and sucking
Chris Kresser has a well-written article on natural childbirth and the possible side-effects of epidural on yourself and baby. I suggest you read it.
My Experiences Without Epidural During Labor
I had TWO completely different childbirth experiences. My first was 26 hours long and exhausting because it literally was a marathon of wakefulness, though contractions were never very intense. My second was a very intense 9 hours.
With my long first labor, I wanted relief … not necessarily from pain, but from the utter exhaustion. The stated 26 hours was only what we counted when I left work to go home to labor. It was 26 hours without any significant rest and I was in serious need of sleep. When I complained enough about needing a “break” the doctor finally came in and told me I was too far along for anything more than an epidural. I didn’t need that kind of break so I excused him from his duties. Moments later, my water was broken and I was having a baby.
My son was 13 days past-due. When I finally went into labor, my body did everything in its power to push that baby out by any means necessary. It was an intense 9 hours in which every contraction felt like I would burst from my core. Again, I began requesting relief, though never did I use the safe word to indicate I had to have it. My requests fell on deaf ears, but in support of my real desire for a natural birth (thank God!).
Tips for Going Without Epidural During Labor
From my experiences, the following things helped me make it through both experiences without ever accepting an epidural during labor and achieving a natural birth:
- Fear drives pain. Your state of mind is going to be the driving force in how you handle labor. Scared of labor? Overcome your fear!
- Don’t lose focus. Remind yourself that a contraction is coming and focus on your breathing or movement.
- Pain is temporary. You will get through a contraction (or pushing) and it will be over soon.
- Movement relieves (some) pain. It’s amazing how your body will tell you what you need during a contraction. Be sure to listen to it! I found a birth ball helpful for this.
- Have support. It doesn’t matter if it is your husband, partner, mom. It does matter that they support your decisions. I’m all for having your husband in the delivery room as your support!
- Be comfortable requesting help. Whether you need counter-pressure during a contraction, back rub, a shoulder to cry on, or help to get into a comfortable position during labor, you need to ask!
Want more? Try these tips for birth without labor.
Yes, labor can be difficult. The comparison that it’s like a marathon isn’t completely inaccurate (especially if you have a long labor). It does hurt, temporarily. When I sit and think about having my IUD inserted (and removed), I prefer labor pains which are natural and are followed by a symphony of hormones that your body handles on its own. I prefer supporting and trusting my body over trusting medical interventions that come with their own sets of unnatural risks that you open yourself up to when choosing an epidural out of fear. And this fear likely resulted from others’ telling you “you’ll change your mind” in their anti-epidural shaming speeches.
Would you like more tips for avoiding the epidural during labor and transition? I’ve created a cheat sheet with 21 ways you can skip the epidural!
Being induced may increase your risk of further interventions
You may have heard this called the cycle of interventions. A Pitocin induced labor can stress out the baby and your body, and you or the doctor may want to start an epidural. Every intervention has side-effects which may require the next delivery of medication to off-set the last. This is known as the cycle of interventions.
Interested? Learn more about how an induction may not only be unnecessary but one of the first steps in an unfulfilled natural birth dream.
If you’re considering induction because you’re tired of waiting, try out these tips first:
While you wait, why not make some freezer meals?
If you’re interested in natural birth and all the reasons not to succumb medical interventions, I want to recommend a book to you. Everything in this book was reiterated and confirmed during the natural childbirth class I took, led by an L&D nurse and 4-time natural birth mother. I can’t say enough about how helpful this book was for motivating me to take the natural path for my baby’s entrance into the world.
*Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link.
Be sure to have your postpartum and baby kit packed in your hospital bag too!
Tell me: Did you take the epidural during labor?
This post originally appeared on SAHM, plus… July 2021 and has been updated.