Epidural anesthetic is very safe and will in most cases relieve all the pain of labor. It is given in a continuous drip so it will last during the entire labor process.
Epidural anesthetic is medicine that is given in the back. It is not put into the the area with the spinal cord but just outside of the sac that holds the spinal fluid. The medication is numbing medicine that bathes the nerves as they exit the spinal canal. This will make the women numb from the abdomen down. Most women will have no pain after the epidural is used. A plastic catheter, like very thin IV tubing is left in the back and removed after delivery. This allows for as much numbing medication to be given throughout the labor so it will not wear off.
The medication from the epidural does not get into the women’s blood stream so it will not go to the baby. The medication can sometimes cause a drop in the women’s blood pressure, this can be treated with increased fluids or medication if needed. There is no worry about this medication affecting the baby when it is born, it will not. Epidural is by far the safest and most reliable form of pain medication in labor. Another benefit of the epidural is that if an emergency cesarean section needs to be done, the epidural can usually be used saving the women from other forms of surgical anesthesia.
There are many myths about the epidural anesthesia. Epidurals are extremely safe. Some people believe that epidurals can cause back pain. This is not true. In fact epidurals are often used as a treatment for chronic back pain. Many women develop back pain during pregnancy. Pushing can also strain the back. Back injury is very common postpartum due to the lifting of the baby from difficult angles and especially from the baby in a heavy car seat. When the women had an epidural and her back hurts from one of these other causes the epidural is often blamed.
Some people fear being paralyzed from an epidural. This does not occur. It is true that it is theoretically possible to have a complication from the epidural that could lead to paralyses. The odds of this happening are incredibly remote. You are more likely to be struck by lightning then to be paralyzed from an epidural.
There is controversy over whether the epidural will increase the length of labor. These studies are hard to do. Women that have very fast labors are less likely to get am epidural even if they want one. Some times the baby delivers so quickly that there is not time to get an epidural. Women that are destined to have slow labor are much more likely to get an epidural. Many women enter labor wanting to deliver naturally. If the labor takes a long time many of them will change their mind and accept an epidural. Because of this phenomenon it is difficult to say if the epidural slows down labor or if it is just slow labors that have epidurals. My feeling is that even it it does slow down labor, who cares, as long as the women is not in pain.
For information about an epidural from an anesthesiologist click here.