When compared to other painful life experiences, labour pain always ranks high in the list. Also, it’s not just about the physical pain but also about the emotional experience (especially during labour and even long before that moment). The experience can be unique to each mum because of each woman’s different perception about pain.
Right now you might be in that emotional experience already. In addition, you now consider pain relief options especially epidurals. But there’s the safety concern and uncertainty about this local anaesthetic procedure.
Risks and side effects often come along with medical procedures and treatments. One reason for this is that different bodies can react differently to drugs (our genetic make-up is one factor). Our immune system may react adversely to a particular substance that is seen as a threat and that reaction may manifest in the form of allergies. Also, drugs often lack micro-targeting which means the active substances may cause side reactions.
It’s the same case with anaesthesia including epidural procedures. In this type of procedure, painkilling drugs are injected around the nerves that carry signals from the part of your body that feels in pain when you’re in labour. In other words, the local anaesthetics prevent the nerves from carrying pain signals to your brain.
As mentioned earlier, there might be side reactions or adverse effects. In epidurals, the undesirable effects might include:
Despite the risks, around 77 per cent (and a certain percentage of this is for epidural) of mothers in labour received pain relief (source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). The pain is just far from tolerable and the additional stress is seen as unnecessary (increasing the amount of work the body has to do).
We’ve already discussed the potential side effects to you as the mum but what about the baby?
There are no consistent and reliable findings about the potential effects of epidurals to the babies. If there’s an issue, it might be due to something else (e.g. your specific medical condition, genetics, individual health of newborns).
But still, it’s a cause for worry because it’s an intervention with potentially unpredictable effects. One such possible effect is how epidural can lower your blood pressure (which can then affect the flow of oxygen to your baby). Another possible effect is that the drugs might cross the placenta and thereby affect your baby’s breathing or make him/her feel drowsy.
There will always be risks and no matter how unlikely the scenarios are, it’s important for you to know everything there is about epidural. Best thing to do is to consult a doctor about the risks, the procedure and your other options about pain relief. It also helps to let the doctor know about your allergies and your adverse reactions to medical procedures in the past.
Many mums actually wanted a drug-free childbirth if possible. But the pain is just intolerable and labour could take 30 hours or more. The contractions and the unbearable pain have made many mums reach out for anything to take away that pain or some make it a bit more bearable.
Thankfully many hospitals have everything ready. Before the crucial moment it helps to know first if the hospital is doing the epidural procedure. Even if you have no plans or having second thoughts about it, just in case it’s good to have it ready especially during those very trying times.
It’s about experiencing relief but take note that the procedure itself can be frightening. First it’s a regular-looking needle then it’s a very large and scary-looking needle that will be placed in the area surrounding your lower spinal cord. The doctor or anaesthesiologist will then place the catheter and remove the needle (you’ll get continuous supply of the anaesthetic during labour). From about the waist down you’ll feel the numbness (and a great relief during this painful period).
How long does it take to take effect? There’s immediate relief and the entire epidural experience could just be a quick and sharp pinch. There could be discomfort at the start and then it’s bliss throughout. Some mums though report they don’t remember anything at all about the procedure. Perhaps the labour and childbirth experience (too focused on the contractions) overwhelmed the epidural.
At the start many were undecided about epidural-assisted childbirth. But as the pain gets impossible to bear, epidural becomes really tempting (if that’s the word during labour). The procedure can bring a great contrast of relief because labour pain is nothing compared to the pain or intimidation of the needle.