Pain Management During Labor isn’t for Pansies: A Logical Look at the Epidrual Debate

I’ve had four babies, and it seems anytime I get towards the end of my pregnancy and the big L-day is near, people start talking about pain management during labor, epidurals being the most common conversation piece. The world of epidural opinions is pretty evenly divided into those that are pro-drugs and those that are anti-drugs with very little middle-grounders. Myself sitting on the pro-epidural side, I find the anti-epidural moms tend to be pushier. They seem to feel they are validated in their opinion in a you’re-putting-yourself-and-your-baby-in-danger sort of way, and somehow came to the conclusion that’s their business. I don’t think that’s fair or their business. I don’t think a new mother needs people making her feel like a bad mom for wanting pain relief during labor. More over, I don’t feel the anti-epidural debates are validated.

Let’s take a look at the anti-epidural debate one point at a time.

I can feel the beauty

The labor process is a beautiful thing everyone should experience.
A baby is a beautiful thing. The labor process is nasty, gooey, and most notably, really freakin’ painful. I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would want to feel that, and someone who has experienced it trying to convince someone it’s something beautiful that they need to experience, is just sadistic — and that’s coming from someone who has experienced it. It’s like saying, “here drive a nail through your palm, it’s beautiful.”

Women have been giving birth for hundreds of years without pain medication.
Yes, and you know what? Before we had things like anesthesia, people had limbs amputated without pain medication, too — for hundreds of years even. Are you going to tell a car accident victim who needs their leg removed that they shouldn’t use pain medication because for hundreds of years people didn’t? This “hundreds of years” argument is often brought up by the same women who quietly call those of us that don’t enjoy excruciating pain weak or wussies. You can reference that car accident victim again in that case.

Epidurals slow the labor process.
There was a time when this was believed to be fact. However, more recent studies on the subject have shown epidurals to have no effect on labor duration. Others have shown a marginal increase in labor time (less than 1 hour). Earlier studies indicated waiting until you are dilated to at least 4 cm would eliminate this concern. In short, studies have mixed results. The question is does the possible even marginally increased labor time shown in some studies hurt you or your baby? The answer is no.

not just a fashion statement…

You won’t be able to feel the contractions to push.
This may or may not be true. It really depends on how your body handles the epidural. Some women indeed have trouble feeling contractions, others don’t. This is irrelevant, however, because modern labors are monitored, meaning you can see when you’re having a contraction by watching a machine, you don’t need to feel them.

Epidurals are dangerous to mom and baby.
There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Rates of C-section are not higher with epidurals. Apgar scores in babies that are delivered with an epidural are not lower. Mothers who received epidurals are not at a higher risk for depression or any other condition. Some women do report nausea, shivering, injection site pain, and difficulty urinating shortly after having an epidural, but you should hear what women without pain management during labor report. Other than that, about 1% of women experience extreme headaches as a result of procedure error—not the epidural itself. In very rare cases, like 1 in 80,000 to 230,000 rare, permanent nerve damage can occur.

In the end, much like with most choices as a parent, epidurals fall under the personal-preference category. Opting for an epidural for pain relief during labor does not mean you’re weak. It doesn’t pose notable risk to you or your baby. Personally, I’d say the few possible side effects do not outweigh the pain relief. I will have an epidural with my next baby as well, and it doesn’t make me a weaker woman or a bad mom.

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