When you're pregnant, it seems like everyone has an opinion about pain relief during childbirth, making it hard to decide whether it's the right choice for you. About 61 percent of women who have a vaginal birth choose to have epidural pain relief, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whether you're positive you want an epidural -- or just want to be prepared in case you change your mind during delivery (it happens!), here's what you need to know.
At What Point During Labor Can You Get One?
In the old days (like, a few years ago), you couldn't get an epidural until your cervix was dilated 3 to 5 centimeters. Now, doctors generally say that you can have one at any point during delivery as long as you're in active labor that's progressing at a reasonable rate -- though it's worth noting that some hospitals have official policy about when you can get one (for instance, not until you're dilated 4 centimeters). "While it's simply not true that getting an epidural too early leads to higher risks, like an increased likelihood for c-section, your obstetrician will want you to wait until you're having regular contractions and your cervix is dilating at a steady rate," says William Camann, M.D., director of obstetric anesthesia at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA and author of Easy Labor: Every Woman's Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Labor.