The epidural’s more popular than ever for pain relief during delivery (71 percent of all expecting mamas get one!) but what should you know before opting in—or out—of that go-to numbing med? Read on.
It’s Ok (And Even Advised) to Get It Early
To administer an epidural, doctors insert a tiny tube into your lower back, and you’ve got to sit super still for it. (Yep—hard to do when contractions are coming in fast.) So while you may have planned to tough out contractions for as long as possible before calling in backup, if you know you want an epidural, it’s better to start the process before you’re fighting off major, body-shaking waves of pain. The great news? Once it’s in you’ll feel relief fast—usually within 10 to 20 minutes.
It Really Should Nix the Pain
Most women feel numbness from the waist down after an epidural, says ob-gyn Kecia Gaither, MD, Director of Perinatal Services for NYC Health+Hospitals/Lincoln. “They may feel pressure from the uterine contractions, but no pain.” A number of hospitals now offer patients a little remote “top-up” button to press while laboring, which releases small amounts of the anesthesia as needed to keep you comfortable for longer.
It Could Impact How You Push
You may have heard rumors that getting an epidural can slow down labor, but studies show that actually isn’t true, says Dr. Gaither. One thing the epidural can impact? Your drive to push once you’re fully dilated, since the pain impetus isn’t there, says Dr. Gaither. Don’t sweat if you’re worried about not knowing when to push—your team of doctors and nurses will monitor your contractions on a screen and coach you through pushing at exactly the right time.
Complications Are Pretty Rare
Side effects from an epidural range from mild (nausea, itching, or a drop in blood pressure, which requires treatment) to more serious (infection, spinal headaches, paralysis)—but those scarier complications are exceptionally rare. In fact, the risk of having any complications at all is under 3 percent.
You’ll Probably Need a Catheter to Pee
Since you’re numb from the waist down, going to the bathroom becomes a little less… voluntary. It’s likely the doctor will slide a catheter in after the epidural is working (so you won’t feel a thing) to keep your bladder empty until right before baby comes.
The Meds Reach Baby, But Shouldn’t Affect Him
Because the anesthesia used in an epidural affects the whole body, a tiny amount does reach your baby on the way. Doctors haven’t discovered any long-term effects on the babe, but it’s possible baby could feel slightly drowsy if the epidural is given within a short time prior to delivery, says Dr. Gaither. (It won’t last.)
You Should Be Able to Walk Around Shortly After Delivery
Once the epidural has been removed, most women can get up and move around shortly after, says Dr. Gaither—your legs just might feel a little heavy or wobbly. (Odds are you’ll be too busy cuddling baby to go anywhere far, anyways.)