Many women struggle with the choice to take an epidural or not and some women make the decision very quickly. Personally, I knew right away. My general philosophy about western medicine is to use it only when absolutely necessary. Since child birth has been around as long as the human race and women have done it for centuries without pain medication I felt it wasn't something that was necessary. I decided very early on that I would have a completely natural birth with no medications whatsoever – not even for pain. Looking back I am very happy with my choice and would do the same thing again – not to say it was a walk in the park by any means!
When I was in the hospital after having my daughter I was a bit of a celebrity amongst the nurses on my floor because I was known as the crazy woman who opted out of the epidural. Until then I never realized how uncommon is was to opt out. To me, there was never even the thought of taking it but to others, they would never think of doing it my way. Most women ask me why I would do such a thing?
This is why…
- Epidurals may interfere with mother and child bonding and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is very important for a child's health. It gives the baby all the essential nutrients she needs when first born. Breastfeeding also helps the baby to develop a strong immune system and overall good health. It has been said that taking an epidural can interfere with the mother and baby bonding that happens immediately after birth because both mother and child are feeling the effects of the anesthesia. It can also lead to long term consequences with parent-child relationships.
- Longer labor and Increased rates of c-sections, vacuum, or forceps. Epidurals may lengthen the time in which a woman is in labor because it can inhibit the ability to push. Also, women who have epidurals are usually given a drug called pitocin which causes the uterus to contract because of the effects of the epidural. When a labor goes on for a long time the doctor usually wants to use some type of intervention which may include vacuum or forceps and in some cases c-section.
- Possible problems for the Mother. Women with epidurals are twice as likely to have back pain after giving birth. There are also complications that could occur with the insertion of the epidural such as unintentional spinal block resulting spinal headache requiring days of bed rest and a blood patch. In addition, the mother may feel detached from the process and becomes an observer; others may reduce emotional support. This detachment makes it more difficult for a nurse to assess labor progress by observing the mother and must rely more on the monitor and vaginal exams.
- Infant irritability. Women who take epidurals may have babies who have short-term (six weeks or less) subtle neurobehavioral effects, such as irritability and inconsolably and decreased ability to track an object visually or to shut out noise, bright light. There is no information on whether or not this has a long term effect.
These are some of the known effects of taking an epidural during labor but there may be other effects that are not known at this point. It is a very personal choice and only you will know what is right for you. The most important thing is to know your options and the benefits and consequences both. There are a lot of great books about birth and also this great video that helped me The Business of Being BornI highly recommend it for all pregnant moms.