Labor hurts. However, there is a way to avoid at least some of the pain associated with childbirth: the trusty epidural. It’s a pain relief method that is widely used here in the U.S.—in fact, it’s estimated that more than 60 percent of laboring moms deliver with the aid of an epidural, but it’s often administered with a healthy dose of guilt.
Katie Brown, mom of one in Baltimore, says, “I felt almost bullied into not having an epidural—not by the medical staff but by my friends and sisters, who kept talk-ing about how superior a natural birth is.” Going drug-free in the delivery room is a trend that’s becoming increasingly popular, and it’s a great way to give birth.
But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. “Natural birth is amazing,” notes Erin Petti, mom of one in Winthrop, Massachusetts, “and women who choose that path are right to have a lot of pride in the decision. It just wasn’t for me.”
There’s no shame in asking for relief from what has the potential to be the most painful experience of your life. Epidural moms are awesome, too, and here are just a few reasons why …
Some moms veer away from epidurals due to a fear of something going wrong. No medical procedure comes without risk, but for the most part, epidurals are a safe and effective way to manage pains associated with labor and delivery. “An epidural is completely safe for you and your baby,” says Sheryl Ross, MD, FACOG, a practicing physician in Santa Monica, California. It does carry some risks, which range from easily fixable to pretty darn scary, but it’s important to remember that these side effects are rare. That freak epidural horror story you heard about your neighbor’s second cousin’s college roommate is definitely not the norm. The most common epidural byproduct is a drop in blood pressure, but hospitals are prepared for this. Many even try to prevent it by giving IV fluids prior to insertion of an epidural.
It’s also widely reported that epidurals slow down labor. And it’s true: An epidural might prolong your labor a bit. But that isn’t such a bad thing for many moms. Once your pain has been lessened, labor takes on a whole new pace. Lisa Bauman, mom of two in Glenview, Illinois, recalls, “Getting an epidural made my labor enjoyable. I was coherent. I was able to talk. I was able to think.” Before the administration of her epidural, that wasn’t the case. “I would have been willing to stick that needle straight through my eyeball if it promised to reduce the pain by even a fraction of what I was feeling,” she says.
And when it comes time to push, an epidural doesn’t necessarily numb the process. “A perfect epidural blocks the pain associated with uterine contractions and allows you to move your legs comfortably and push effectively when it comes time for delivery,” Ross notes. You should be able to feel pressure but not pain. “When it became time to push, all I felt was pressure when the contractions were coming on,” Bauman says, which allowed her to push efficiently. Petti also didn’t feel like her epidural had any negative effects on her delivery: “[My] delivery was super fast. It happened in about 10 minutes.”
No pain, no gain
Some moms make the epidural call in the delivery room, but others know they’ll be asking for the needle long before they head to the hospital. It’s no secret that labor hurts, and some moms feel better equipped to handle that discomfort than others. If you’re thinking you want to pass on the pain, you’re not alone. It’s normal to fear hurt; most people do. Plus, according to Ross, “Knowing ahead of time that you’ll be getting an epidural during labor reduces any apprehension or fear that continues to build up throughout pregnancy. Not knowing what is coming can be scary to a new mom.”
However, many women choose to try to labor naturally before opting for an epidural, which is also a respectable choice. Bauman shares, “For both of my children, I wanted to first attempt a natural birth. I didn’t want to numb myself to one of the most amazing experiences I would ever know in life.” However, she decided to get an epidural both times and has no regrets. “I still had amazing birth experiences, and I was not ‘numb’ to my labor and delivery at all. [The epidural] just made it more enjoyable.”
Here’s the bottom line: Laboring and giving birth is going to hurt. You might want to experience that pain, and that’s OK. A lot of women do. But you might not want to, or you might be nervous about how you’ll handle it, and that’s also OK. Your labor is not like anyone else’s, and your body is not like anyone else’s. Just because your sister or best friend or coworker delivered drug-free doesn’t mean you should—or that you’ll be any less of a mother (or woman) if you don’t.
Peace on earth
In some ways, an epidural can significantly enhance your labor experience. “[My epidural] allowed me to focus again and be present,” attests Petti. “The epidural was an immediate relief. I was shocked at how quickly the pain subsided,” agrees Bauman. Women who receive effective epidurals are able to lie back, relax and savor the labor experience. Some lucky gals are even able to sleep, storing up much-needed energy for the physical exertion of delivering a baby.
“[From] my 22 years experience, I can tell you that the less pain a woman feels during labor and delivery, the better,” notes Ross. “Epidurals are, hands down, the most effective and safest way of providing pain relief during labor.” No one is handing out awards outside the delivery room, so don’t opt for the full-feel labor experience because you’re looking for a medal.
When it comes time for your wee one to make his entrance, bear in mind that there is no shame in asking for relief from the pain. You are not weak, incapable or a failure. In fact, truth be told, you’re pretty darn amazing. “Giving birth is the most incredible experience of your life,” says Bauman. “And getting an epidural does nothing to take away from that.” You’ll experience the joy of bringing life into the world either way. And no matter how you deliver, you’ll be walking out of the hospital in a couple days time with the ultimate reward: a brand-new baby.