Epidurals for labor pain

Why might you want an epidural?

  • It abolishes pain. It is the only pain relief method that can do this. That being said, epidurals fail to take only on one side, or leave “windows” in about five to ten percent of cases (6,11,29). Note: Having a continuous delivery system provides more even pain relief than having the anesthesiologist come in to inject more medication into the catheter at intervals or when pain returns.
  • It abolishes pain without affecting consciousness. Epidurals leave you awake and aware. Narcotics leave you feeling fuzzy-headed, drowsy, or a little drunk.
  • It allows you to rest or sleep. This can be a benefit in long or difficult labors.
  • It may help a labor where progress in dilation has stopped in the active phase. Usually, epidurals slow labor down. Occasionally though, they help labors that have gotten “stuck” probably by inducing profound relaxation. An epidural is certainly worth trying before going to a cesarean.

What are the potential drawbacks or problems with an epidural?

Evaluating the adverse effects of epidurals is difficult for the following reasons:

  • Women in the comparison group have almost always had some drug (Pitocin, narcotic, a different type of epidural), procedure (I.V., rupture of membranes), or restriction (confinement to bed, nothing by mouth) that could also affect them, their babies, or the labor pattern
  • Every variation in drug or drug combination, dosage and procedure, could affect mothers, babies and the labor differently, but
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