Understanding Your Epidural

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Many women count on epidurals to control their pain during labor, but unfortunately, choosing an epidural cannot guarantee a pain-free labor and delivery.

The effectiveness of an epidural will depend on two primary factors. One, how well the epidural is placed by the anesthesiologist—if the needle catheter is placed incorrectly, or in a less-than-optimal location in the epidural space, the medicine may not be as effective. Secondly, your body is a factor. Every woman will respond differently to the epidural. Some find that the epidural completely alleviates their pain — I have literally seen a woman push out her baby while laughing. Others, like myself, found the epidural helpful, but still found the actual act of pushing a baby out pretty darn painful. (I may or may not have yelled once or twice, even with the epidural.)

Because you may not know how your body will respond to the epidural or how your well your epidural will be placed, here are some tips to remember if you choose an epidural for your labor and find it to be less-than-effective:

  • Changing positions may help
    If you have been in the same position for a prolonged period of time, the epidural medicine may not be distributing properly in your body. Changing positions or rotating sides may help get the medicine distributed evenly.
  • An epidural primarily helps with the pain, not the pressure. As your baby descends down the birth canal, you will feel increased pressure in your rectum and vagina — this is normal and is caused by the baby descending. It’s usually that extreme pressure that causes the urge to push, so in many cases, an epidural does not affect you feeling the pressure. And that’s usually a good thing, because you need to feel that pressure to push! So, just remember if you are feeling pressure, but not your contraction pain, the epidural is probably doing its job.
  • Speak up!
    This is the most important thing I can tell you about epidurals — they don’t work the same way for everyone. Your nurse and your doctor will work with you to adjust the epidural medication levels as necessary and can even give you extra medicine if needed. Be sure to tell your nurse if the epidural is alleviating your pain and don’t be afraid to tell her if it’s not.

Did your epidural relieve your pain during labor and delivery?

Photo via Flickr/harinaivoteza

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Understanding Your Epidural

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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6 comments

  1. mommy7 says:

    34 weeks Im on baby number 7 and I have yet to use an epidural, but im kind of considering it this time, however usually I have pretty quick deliveries that dont warrant even getting one, but every Pregnancy is different and I am considering it this time for sure im just hoping all goes well whatever I decide to do

  2. Megan says:

    Ah, guess I should correct myself… didn’t realize this, but epidurals are pretty standard for C-Sections. Still, I feel like the ramifications would be a good idea to include in this article. As my doctor put it, leaking spinal fluid meant that my brain was literally sagging. Not cool at all. Lovely read though, by the way. 🙂

  3. Megan says:

    I know there are potential side-affects to everything, but one thing I felt this article should have touched on was the consequences of having your spine nicked when someone improperly administers an epidural. This happened to me, which meant I was slowly leaking spinal fluid, and resulted in a massive "spinal headache" postpartum. I can not even describe the agony I was in for several days later – it was so severe I threw up and had to go to the emergency room to correct it. Not to mention the whole procedure was somewhat pointless for me, seeing as eventually I wound up with a c-section. I guess my point is… epidurals are not always a good idea, so make sure it’s going to be worth it for you before getting one.

  4. haven’t had one yet but considering it. watching all these birthing shows is helping me realize that anything can happen. i’m openminded and mentally prepared to handle anything.

  5. Jeanetta says:

    I’m gonna go with yes, I could still feel pressure and the contractions but it was not as bad as it was before the epidural, I was in labor for two days and I had enough of the pain.

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