Epidural risk and benefits

Q: Should I get an epidural?

A: This is a very common concern for pregnant patients. Receiving an epidural is a very personal decision, and women should understand the risks, benefits and alternatives before making a choice.

The epidural is the most common pain relief that doctors use for laboring moms, with over 50% of pregnant women choosing this mode of relief. An epidural does allow women to relax, rest and have a more pain free labor experience.

Epidurals do not come risk- free however. Patients with epidurals must stay in bed and cannot readily change positions without help. An epidural can cause temporary low blood pressure in mom, which can alter blood flow to the baby. An epidural can leave a mother with a head ache the next day. Patients with epidurals may have to push longer, because they feel numb and the urge to push is not as strong as someone who is going natural. There is a very small risk of paralysis, persistent weakness or numbness in the legs. There are alternatives to the traditional epidural. There are walking epidurals that are available in some hospitals, which allow women some pain relief, without interfering with their mobility in labor. Some patients hypno-birth, a self hypnotic method which women go to classes for during pregnancy. I have seen patients do this and have amazing, calm births. Hospitals also offer IV pain medicine. This mode of pain relief is not ideal, because it makes mothers very sleepy during their own labors. Some women choose to go natural.

So, an epidural is a personal decision. Some women make the decision prior to going in to labor, others decide during labor as things progress. As long as you know the options and risks, patients can make the decision to “epidural or not.”

Dr. Somi Javaid, OB/GYN; Co-Founder MamaDoc

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