An epidural is an analgesic injected into the spine during the first stage of labor. It drastically reduces the pain of labor to virtually no pain, and it helps the mother get rest for the physically demanding pushing part of labor.
Should you get an epidural? It really depends on personal preference. There are pros and cons of both.
Epidurals are very popular and are used in about 66% of births in the US.
For the baby, epidurals don’t have big differences in APGAR score, fetal distress, or NICU time. The epidural does raise the risk of a maternal fever during labor, which could prompt doctors to administer antibiotics to be safe and thus expose the baby to antibiotics.
The epidural does come with a number of cons:
- Increased risk of forceps or vacuum extractor in delivery
- Greater use of C-section for fetal distress
- Longer pushing time (15 minutes)
- Greater use of Pitocin in labor to compensate for slowing in contractions
- Higher chance of baby facing up at birth (possibly due to less walking)
- Greater chance of maternal hypotension
- Longer recovery postpartum
- Increased chance of fever in labor
- 1/200 epidurals cause a wet tap, where the needle goes into the spinal fluid and causes a headache for a few days
Book author Emily Oster ultimately chose to deliver both children without an epidural.
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