I like to do things naturally, really. I like natural food, natural medicine, natural cleansers, natural births. But epidurals… well I really like epidurals. I’ve given birth three times and gladly taken the epidural each time. And every time I hear something about how awful it is to subject your body and your baby to the pain-numbing pleasure of an epidural… well, I just kind of ignore it.
So I’m rather pleased to read The Truth about epidurals by Melinda Wenner Moyer,which relates that “concerns voiced by natural birthers are exaggerated.” And that’s a relief, because I’ve been really concerned that I was missing out on something, as I dozed through my contractions.
Ms. Moyer enumerates some of the main concerns that have been voiced about epidurals:
- Epidurals and other pain-relieving drugs contribute to the over-medicalization of motherhood. They argue that such treatments create a snowball effect, necessitating additional interventions and intrusions: IVs, synthetic oxytocin to speed up the labor process, catheters, blood pressure monitors, and electronic fetal monitors.
- Epidurals make it more difficult for women to push when it comes time to deliver.
- Epidurals lengthen labor.
- Epidurals’ numbing effects on pelvic muscles increases the risk of cesarean section, a surgery entailing a long recovery, risk for post-op infection or hernia, and future pregnancy complications.
- Epidurals prevent newborns from suckling properly, which could impair nursing success.
After examining the available research, Ms. Moyer cuts down these popularly held beliefs. Epidurals today (which are different than those administered 20 years ago) do not impede a woman’s ability to push. Epidurals have been associated with c-sections, but not as a direct cause. One study showed that women with epidurals did, in fact, dilate more slowly and take longer to deliver, but they were no more likely to undergo C-sections than women who did not have drugs. You can read her article for a complete review of studies and findings.
So now I’ll throw in my personal experience for what it’s worth! My first birth was induced at 42 weeks. I took the epidural, pushed for about 5 minutes, and delivered a lovely, healthy baby who had no trouble nursing. My next two births were also aided by an epidural, and again I had no trouble pushing them out, and they also breastfed without any apparent side-effects. No C-sections, thank God, and no post-delivery complications. It is definitely possible that the epidurals lengthened my labor, but if you can’t feel the pain, does a little extra time matter?
I have great respect for women who birth naturally without any drugs at all. I still envy them a tiny bit. I kind of want to know what that feels like. But I’ll probably take an epidural again if given the choice.
feature image: Womenshealth.gov