Pain relief and pregnancy: opting for an epidural

Filed under: Your Pregnancy

In approximately two weeks (March 31 is the d-day) I will be a new mommy. That said, amidst all the layette options, getting my house and life in order and trying to come up with something constructive for my husband to do besides stew I have the wonderful and strange option of determining whether or not I want pain management during my labor. In other words, do I want the drugs or not?

Interestingly enough, much like with the breastfeeding conversation, the topic of epidurals is a REALLY hot one. Some believe natural child birth is the only way to go. This means no drugs. This means lots of pain. This means, however, that you have the baby the way everyone else did before someone got the bright idea to stick a needle in your spine and numb at least part of you from the waist down. Since the beginning of human time women have given birth without the aid of medication and somehow the species has survived.

Others, like my anesthesiologist, believe that there is no reason whatsoever for a woman to endure such pain when options are available to manage said pain while still allowing the woman to participate in the actual birth of her child. Contrary to the old days, when women were basically knocked out and woke up to their little one, epidurals no longer cut off all feeling from the waist down, allowing modern women the advantage of being able to feel the pressure and some pain in order to assist in squeezing out their bundles of joy instead of relying on the healthcare professionals alone to do it for them. This is known as a walking epidural, or, as my anesthesiologist likes to joke, an "epidural lite" (you know, like a Bud Lite).

Just listening to my grandmother, who gave birth to my mom in her mother's rural home way back when, was almost enough to make the decision for me. I swear she informed me they put a cloth doused in ether over her mouth and that was it, except for the writhing and screaming and whatnot. According to grandma the cloth was only as good as long as she could keep it over her mouth, which was for about ten seconds after which she had a contraction and threw the cloth clear across the room. The doctor was there of course, and both grandma and my mother made it through the entire process intact and in good health. Otherwise I guess I wouldn't be here to write about it.

Still, I wanted to know what the options for pain relief were before making a decision, and more importantly what drawbacks there might be. Would getting an epidural possibly cause harm to me or my baby? Would it keep me from being able to experience fully the birthing process? The answers to those two questions, by the way, are no.

The more I read the more confused I became. So I turned to a professional, by way of a free seminar held at NYU, the hospital where I plan on birthing my son. I say "plan" because I live in Brooklyn and the hospital in in Manhattan on the East Side. One never knows what could happen on the long strange journey between the two.

It turns out there are a LOT of myths out there concerning pain management. For example, one woman at the seminar asked if there was ever a point at which it was too late to get an epidural. Apparently the only time it truly is too late is once you've had the baby!

During the seminar I learned that getting an epidural is up to me and my obstetrician (there are certain conditions under which it is not advisable to receive an epidural. That said, other pain management options exist for such conditions should you desire such treatment.). I was informed of exactly how one is administered--it's not as scary as I thought--and even got to play with an epidural wire. It looks essentially like an i-Pod headphone wire.

Patients these days have a lot more individual control over their pain management than in the old days, which I found refreshing. Literally they hook you up to the drugs and you can give yourself a squirt whenever you feel you need it. It should be noted here you CANNOT overdose on the medicine as it is controlled for a release of every ten minutes. this means that you can click away all you want, but you're only going to get a shot of the good stuff every ten minutes.

If your hospital doesn't offer a seminar to separate myth from fact like mine does, take heart. The world wide web does have some useful info to offer, and in particular this article which I found most helpful. Essentially most of what I learned at the seminar can be found in this article, with one major exception which I think is important to note: At the seminar I was informed that even if I did get an epidural I would be able to move around because I would be getting an epidural lite. Walking around wouldn't be a snap, but it would be doable. Whether or not you wish to move around, given this is one of the last opportunities you have pre-motherhood to just sit there, is up to you.

If you decide to forgo the drugs and have the baby au natural, there are any number of ways to go about relieving pain, including breathing exercises, massage, heating pads and warm water. Remember, as I said before, women have been having babies this way for centuries and everything seems to have turned out OK: we're all still here!

Before making any decisions that could affect your well being or that of your baby, it is imperative that you gather all the facts and consult a professional to help make sense of them. Whether or no you choose to get an epidural is up to you, and your decision should be respected. Whatever it ends up being, make your decision an informed one.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.