Do the Benefits of an Epidural Outweigh the Risks?

Epidural is the common form of pain relief during labor, according to the American Pregnancy Association. More than 50 percent of women who give birth in American hospitals use this type of anesthesia to help mask the pain of labor and delivery. Though epidurals are common, they are not risk-free. If you plan to request an epidural when you go into labor in New Mexico, it is important that you understand both the benefits and risks of getting one.

The administration of an epidural is an extremely delicate and risky practice, as it requires an anesthesiologist to insert a needle into a dulled area close to your spinal cord in your lower back. Once the needle is in place, the specialist will thread a catheter through the needle in the epidural space. The specialist will then remove the needle and leave the catheter in place so that you may receive medication through intervallic doses or ongoing infusion. 

By far the biggest benefit of an epidural is pain relief. Because labor can be so excruciatingly painful, it is difficult for mothers to rest during childbirth. Epidurals allow expectant mothers to enjoy a pain-free, comfortable birthing experience and to be well rested by the time the baby arrives. Depending on how long your labor takes, an epidural may be the only coping mechanism available to help you deal with exhaustion, fatigue and irritability.

Outside of pain relief, however, epidural anesthesia comes with little health benefits. In fact, it comes with zero health benefits and several risks. For one, epidurals can cause your blood pressure to abruptly fall. To prevent complications, nurses will monitor your blood pressure frequently. Though rare, you may experience a severe headache caused by dripping spinal fluid. If this happens, a doctor will perform a “blood patch,” which is a procedure that involves injecting your own blood into the epidural space to relieve the headache.

Epidural anesthesia may also slow down or stop your labor and can make pushing more difficult. It is not uncommon for epidurals to result in the need for additional medications or interventions, such as a cesarean section. You may also experience ringing in the ears, shivering, soreness and nausea after receiving the injection.

Though rare, epidurals can cause permanent nerve damage. It is important to discuss all possible risks, as well as the birthing facilities procedures for mitigating risks, with your healthcare provider well in advance.

The information in this post is for purely educational purposes. It should not be construed as legal advice. 

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