Epidurals for labor pain

How might an epidural affect your birth experience and postpartum recovery?

An epidural is very much a two-edged sword. On the plus side, an epidural can transform what otherwise would be a harrowing experience into a positive one. In some cases, an epidural seems to promote progress in a labor that has gotten “stuck.”

On the minus side, by the time you are hooked up to all the equipment and monitoring devices, what was a perfectly normal labor has been transformed into a high-tech event. This has profound consequences for how you view yourself and your labor and how your partner, other support people and medical caregivers perceive you and your labor as well. Because epidurals eliminate pain you lose the endorphin rush at the birth. Because epidurals make you much more a passive recipient of care than an active agent, you lose the “I did it!” sense of personal accomplishment that women having unmedicated childbirth often report. If the epidural results in your having a vacuum extraction, forceps, or cesarean delivery, this is even more likely to be so. Experiencing an epidural complication will, of course, adversely affect your experience of labor, your postpartum recovery, or both, and the more significant the complication, the stronger the effect.


  1. Abouleish E et al. Intrathecal morphine 0.2 mg versus epidural bupivacaine 0.125% or their combination: effects on parturients. Anesthesiology 1991;74(4):711-6.
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