An epidural is a regional anaesthetia used for pain relief during labour and child birth. This numbs a portion of the body to relieve from pain using drugs which are injected into the spine of the pregnant woman. If you have a less threshold for labour pain, you can consider this option, but before taking the decision, it is crucial to understand the advantages and disadvantages of epidural.
- An epidural works by temporarily blocking the nerves that carry pain signals to the brain from uterus and cervix, thereby reducing the sensation on the lower abdomen or lower half of the body, based on the type of epidural.
- Your anaesthetist will inject the epidural through a catheter into your spine. It is not a painful procedure as you may feel only a small prick. Depending on the amount of epidural administered, you may experience feeling in your legs and feet.
- Epidural is usually administered during the active stages of labour, when the cervix is dilated to about 4-5 cm. However, the time of administration varies based on the gynaecologist and the health condition of the mother.
- In general, epidurals are safe to the baby as it is injected into the spine and not through veins. Only a little quantity can reach the placenta so the baby is not affected. If the blood pressure of the mother drops due to epidural, it may cause discomforts to the baby.
- There are different types of epidurals available: Traditional epidurals cause numbness to the entire lower half of the body and it takes about 20 minutes to kick in while walking epidurals are considered comfortable and effective in pain relief. It starts working within few minutes of administering and it causes numbness only in the lower abdomen, while retaining sensation in the legs.
- Benefits: You can feel the contractions while undergoing labour pain. With experienced practitioners, epidural is easy to administer and it is safe for the baby. It is a good option for women who have low tolerance for pain and those who are scared of childbirth (Tocophobia).
- Epidural makes childbirth a positive experience and the pregnant women can move, walk during labour without feeling pain.
- Disadvantages: Epidural can cause a risk of blood pressure drop in the mother during labour. In most women, epidural prolongs the delivery process by slowing down. Some expectant mothers may feel symptoms like itches, shivers, fever and headache which are reversible.
- Epidural cannot be administered to pregnant women with bleeding abnormalities, cardiac condition or other medical problems. Only your gynecologist can decide if you are suitable to have an epidural injection.
- Walking or mobile epidurals are not available in all the hospitals at all time. It is necessary to check the hospital for the availability of epidural before due date.