Epidural anesthesia is now used as an effective method for pain relief in many procedures such as childbirth (both vaginal delivery and caesarean section), other surgeries, and treatment for back or leg pain due to a prolapsed disc. The area where the needle will be inserted is first numbed using a local anesthesia. Epidural anesthesia then involves the injection of a medicine into the space surrounding the spinal nerves in the lower back located in the epidural space (between the spinal cord and outer membrane of the cord) via the insertion of a sterile needle and tube. the tube or catheter is placed and taped in the center of your back. The epidural anesthesia numbs the body below the point of injection which allows the patient to remain awake during caesarean section or delivery. The amount of pain you feel will hinge on the levels of anesthetic used. Having less anesthetic means that you can be more active during labor and can therefore push more effectively. Using higher levels of anesthetic means that you will feel little to no pain during labor.
What Is Epidural Anesthesia And How Does It Work
Before labor starts, the epidural anesthesia can be decreased so you are more aware and remain more active to push effectively. The anesthesia can be used to numb the region between vagina and perineum. Epidural infusion pumps are used to provide continuous small amounts of anesthetic to ensure that the medicine does not wear of during delivery. After delivery, the catheter may be removed or left in place after caesarean section to provide pain relief. The effects of the epidural anesthesia generally wear off in 2 hours after stopping the anesthetics.
Side Effects Of Receiving An Epidural
Some of the side effects of epidural anesthesia are low blood pressure (of the mother), headache, difficulty walking and / or urinating after delivery, prolonged labor, and fever. One of the rare side effect is seizure. Since an epidural anesthesia can sometimes lower your ability to push, instruments such as forceps may be needed to assist during delivery. A caesarean section might be necessary in certain cases. After the catheter is removed, there may be residual hip or back pain from the delivery which will typically feel better within a few days.
Common side effects experienced are the following:
- Loss of bladder control
- Low blood pressure
- Itchy skin
- Feeling sick
- Inadequate pain relief
- Slow breathing
- Temporary nerve damage
The Pros and Cons of An Epidural
The key advantages of having an epidural is the comfort during labor as you will still be able to experience natural delivery with less painful contractions. Many experts believe that the epidural offers the best pain relief along with safety during labor. The disadvantage would be the risks associated with an epidural such as a decrease in blood pressure, nausea, dizziness, itching, headache, and slow labor. When the process of labor is slowed down, there is increased risk of caesarean section. Movement will be restricted, and you may be confined to your bed.
Alternatives of An Epidural for Childbirth
You can start a birthing plan which constitutes what type of painkillers you would prefer or if you want to go all natural. Remember that it is just a plan and you can always change your mind anytime. Besides the epidural, here are several other options:
Similar to an epidural, a spinal block involves the injection of anesthetic closer to the spinal cord. This can be used if there is less time as an epidural can take 20 minutes to work.
While opioids can help ease labor pain, it doesn’t numb the body like an epidural or spinal. It helps to numb the pain, calm you, and can cause you to feel drowsy. It is great for those who is in labor and needs rest.
Also known as laughing gas, it is not widely available and helps anxiety levels. This option gives mothers control over when and how often they breath in the gas. It does not work as well as an epidural or spinal in providing pain relief but has the advantage of helping those who want to be in control of the birthing experience.
This is rarely used but can be effective in alleviating the pain in the vagina and perineum during delivery. It can be used in situations were the mother is fully dilated and ready to push the baby. Your doctor may use this method if an epidural is not an option and instruments such as forceps or suction cups are needed to help assist the birth of your baby.
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine can be used in early labor. It delivers small electrical waves which stimulates the nerves and relieve pain.
This is an injectable medication that helps with pain relief. It can be injected at the thigh or buttocks. It can also help women who are exhausted to rest before their strength is fully required when it is time to push.
Natural Pain Relief in Labor
There are many women who prefer a natural birth without any medication. Some experts argue that the contractions in labor are valuable as it causes movements that assist the process of labor and delivery. Your body also releases hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins that reduces pain. Some natural methods that can help you are:
Warmth helps relaxes your muscles and therefore reduces pain. You can use a hot water bottle or a wheat bag on your lower back or groin.
You can also soak in a warm bath or birthing pool as it helps you relax and lessens the intensity of the contractions. Women who use a warm bath or birthing pool have reported less pain and therefore less likely to use medication or anesthesia.
This method is usually taught in classes that help prepare the woman for delivery. Focusing on your breathing helps you relax and eases the pain. Take a deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Keep a rhythm and focus on the breathing. Breath in when contraction starts and exhale as it fades.