10 Things You Need to Know About Epidural Anesthesia
During Labor and Birth

  1. You will be immobile and will have to stay in bed. You’ll need help changing positions and will need to switch positions every 30 minutes to distribute the medication evenly throughout your body.
  2. You will have continuous electronic fetal monitoring, because the medications may affect baby.
  3. You will have I.V. (intravenous) fluids continually to maintain healthy blood pressure. Epidurals can cause blood pressure to drop significantly.
  4. The medication in the epidural can make you shiver or shake even though you’re not really cold.
  5. The medication can cause nausea, vomiting, or drowsiness. You can be given other medications to counteract these side effects.
  6. Epidurals can slow down your labor so much that you will need Pitocin (artificial oxytocin) to speed up or augment your labor contractions. Pitocin can affect the fetal heart rate and can cause fetal distress if the contractions are too hard and close together. Then you’d have a Cesarean birth.
  7. You will need a urinary catheter since you can not stand up to go the the bathroom and you will need to keep the bladder empty.
  8. The epidural anesthesia makes it more difficult to push your baby out because your muscles are numb and you won’t have the strength. So you may need instrumental delivery. This means baby may have to be pulled out by your doctor using forceps or a vacuum extractor.
  9. Having an instrumental delivery increases your risk of having an episiotomy or of tearing at the perineum and needing stitches which is a more painful and longer recovery.
  10. Medications in the epidural have been found in both the baby and in breastmilk. If the baby is exposed to the medication, it may be more difficult for the baby to latch on and suck correctly. Although 12 studies have concluded epidurals do interfere with breastfeeding and 10 studies found they do not interfere with breastfeeding. See the evidence

More than 60% of women in the United States choose to get an epidural for labor and birth. It is assumed by most people that an epidural is safe and there are no risks involved when getting an epidural during labor. But just like anything you do in life, there are risks and there are benefits to choosing an epidural in labor for pain relief.