“Don’t try to be Super Mom. You don’t need to prove anything. You can go for the epidural.”
This was said to me toward the beginning of my pregnancy. I was a little taken aback…a little confused…and at the time even a little offended. Super Mom? I wasn’t trying to prove anything by desiring a natural birth. What did this person mean?
Since then I have had many people encourage me and other friends to get the epidural.
Now, hear me on this. I am planning a natural birth. For me, this includes not receiving an epidural. But do I think there is anything inherently wrong with an epidural? Nope!! They are not wretched, sinful inventions designed to ruin a woman’s birth experience. Do I think women who use them are in the wrong or somehow less of a woman? Nope!! Birth is an intense process even with an epidural. A friend pointed out…no matter how you have your baby…you ARE Super Mom!
So why am I not going with an epidural? Personally, I think that knowledge is power. For me the issue isn’t if a woman chooses to get an epidural or not, or has a hospital or a home birth…or even gets a C-section. For me the issue is being aware of all the options and what is involved so that each woman and each couple can make an informed decision, whether that’s an informed “yes” or an informed “no.”
Here are a few things I have discovered while researching epidurals.
During labor, there are many many hormones that are going crazy in the mother’s body. (In fact, it is some of her hormones that start labor in the first place!) God designed these hormones to keep labor progressing, to keep the mother’s adrenaline up, and even to help with the intense bonding of mother and baby during and immediately following birth. It’s pretty incredible.
An epidural messes with these hormones. It cancels out much of them. Because of this, epidurals are often known to stall labor. Yes, the pain has gone down, but with it some of the progress in labor has also slowed or even stopped. Studies have shown that epidurals also increase the woman’s overall time of labor, because the drugs are interfering with the mother’s natural labor hormones.
So what are some of the risks that can come from an epidural?
- They lengthen labor.
- Triple the risk of severe perineal tearing.
- Increased chance of Pitocin and forceps delivery (forceps delivery increases risks to baby: bruising, facial injury, displacement of skull bone, and blood clotting under the scalp)
- May more than double the risk of C-section.
- Triple the cases of induction by oxytocin (commonly called Pitocin. Pitocin is a discussion for another time, but here and here are blog posts [with sources] regarding risks of pitocin.)
- Quadruple the chances of baby being persistently posterior, which decreases likelihood of vaginal delivery
- May increase risk of complications from instrumental delivery
- 1 in 8 women will have lower blood pressure, which decreases amount of blood to the placenta, which can cause less oxygen for baby
- Inability to feel bladder, therefore need for a catheter
- Can increase postpartum hemorrhage
- There are also very rare but very serious complications, such as permanent nerve damage (I know a couple people who still have back pain from their epidural), convulsions, heart and breathing difficulties, and even death.
Everything that goes into the mother’s body and blood stream is directly transferred to the little one. What are some of the effects an epidural can have on baby?
- While an adult’s body can process and get rid of the epidural drugs in about 2.7 hours, it takes the average infant 8 hours to get the drugs from his/her system.
- Babies are more likely to be evaluated and treated for sepsis.
- Causes fetal bradycardia, low heart rate in baby.
- Mothers with epidurals often get fevers. Fevers in the mother have shown to cause lower APGAR scores for baby following birth, poor skin tone, and requiring resuscitation more frequently than mothers without a fever.
- Can cause less alertness and ability to orient until baby is up to a month old
- Can cause difficulty breastfeeding (see also here and here)
Here is another great article that succinctly discusses some of the risks of an epidural to the baby.
Interestingly enough, studies have shown that women who received epidurals were more dissatisfied with their birth experience than women who received no epidural.
The World Health Organization has said, “epidural analgesia is one of the most striking examples of the medicalization of normal birth, transforming a physiological event into a medical procedure.” (Quote taken from this article by Dr. Sarah Buckley, who cites her sources at the bottom.)
There is much much more that could be said on the topic, but this will suffice for now.
Do I think that I am Super Mom? Not at all. In fact, I’m going to share something with the blogosphere that really makes me nervous to share because it is so personal. Guess what? Sometimes I get rather terrified thinking about the pain that is about to come my way. This is going to be the hardest thing I will ever go through. But to me…it’s worth it. God created and designed my body to do this. I know that He can and will get me through this birth, no matter what happens.
Again, please do not come away from this post feeling judged. My goal is not to guilt trip women into coming over to “my side” of the issue. My goal is simply to share part of the journey we have been on as we have been researching and making birth decisions. My goal is simply to share information to help others out. I have found that most women are not even told the possible risks and side effects to hospital/medical procedures. I believe every woman has the right to know what is going on in her body, what all the options are, and what the pros and cons are. Ultimately, as with all life decisions, the final decision is between the woman, her husband, and God.