5 Myths & Realities About Epidurals

woman in laborAlmost from the second you're pregnant, one of your biggest questions is: How is this baby going to get out of me?! Of course, you know the answer, but what you're really worried about is the pain of childbirth. After all, a newborn's head is usually bigger than the size of a grapefruit.

One of the most common ways of dealing with pain the delivery room is the epidural -- at least 60 percent of American moms are choosing this form of pain management. Lots of them joke about it after: "The epidural was my best friend!" But deciding whether or not it's for you is a big decision. Many moms struggle with the idea that getting an epidural makes them a "wimp" (it doesn't), and more importantly they want to know whether getting an epidural is safe for them -- and their baby.

There are a lot of common myths about epidurals, and here, we address them, and give you the facts you need to help make your decision.


We asked Paloma Toledo, M.D., Obstetric physician anesthesiologist and Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, to address the most common misconceptions about epidurals during labor. Here, the facts you need.

Myth 1: Epidurals can cause permanent back pain or paralysis in the mother.
Serious complications from an epidural, including paralysis, are extremely rare. Some women have discomfort in the lower back (where the catheter was inserted) for a few hours or days after the epidural, but it doesn’t last.    

Myth 2: Epidurals can harm the baby.
Fact: In Dr. Toledo’s study, published last year in the International Journal of Obstetric Anesthesia, women expressed concern that an epidural could cause cerebral palsy or be harmful to the baby -- no evidence or research corroborates these concerns. Additionally, the amount of medication that reaches the baby from the epidural is so small it doesn’t cause harm.    

More From The Stir: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Epidurals But Were Afraid to Ask

Myth 3: Epidurals can slow down labor -- or increase the risk of having a C-section.
Fact: There is no credible evidence that an epidural slows down labor or increases your risk of having a c-section. If a woman has a C-section, other factors usually are at play. In fact, there is evidence that epidurals can speed the first stage of labor for some women.   

Myth 4: An epidural interferes with the birth experience.
Some women express fear that their legs will be numb and they won’t be able to walk, feel a contraction or push properly. In fact, your legs should not be so numb that you do not feel them. You may be able to walk after an epidural, depending on the hospital’s policy; however, walking generally is not recommended immediately after the epidural is placed. Epidural procedures have improved significantly in the last 20 years, and you’ll receive enough medication to relieve the pain without taking away your ability to move. Furthermore, the epidural medications will not cause you to be groggy or tired. In other words, you’ll be able to feel contractions -- they just won’t hurt -- and you’ll be able to push effectively.    

More from The Stir: 8 Natural Ways Women Can Manage Pain During Labor

Myth 5: There’s a limited window of time when you can get an epidural.
Fact: You can get an epidural any time you are in labor -- in the beginning, the middle or even toward the end.     

There are many ways to have the best birth, and that answer is unique to each woman and baby being born. The key is to do your research and prepare yourself with knowledge so you have options. If an epidural isn't for you, there are many other ways to manage pain during labor and delivery. And once you're holding that bundle of joy in your arms, you'll forget all about the pain anyway -- or so they say.

Are you considering an epidural? What's your biggest concern? (If you've had one, please share your experience.)


Image via JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Corbis

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