Labor is a very long and really painful process. Some say that you cannot describe labor pain until you have experienced it. This is why medications are sometimes given to laboring mothers, to prevent unnecessary exhaustion caused by extreme pain. It is a collaborative decision between the mother, the husband and the physician whether or not an epidural will be used during labor. This is usually decided upon before the actual event, but the decision can be changed during the labor itself due to certain circumstances.
What Does Epidural Do?
Epidural is actually the location where local anesthesia is injected. In the lumbar area, a spinal long needle is inserted, and before reaching the dura or the outer area of the spinal cord, the local anesthesia is injected. It is injected in that area to maintain localized effect. Injecting the needle beyond the dura makes the drug be absorbed in the central nervous system and will have a systemic effect similar to that of general anesthesia. Epidural anesthesia can significantly decrease labor pain to a minimum when given at the correct time.
Potential Adverse Effects to the Mother
Epidural is a drug, therefore, it is inevitable that it may have side effects and adverse effect just like any other drugs. According to recent studies, some epidurals can lengthen the first and second stage of labor which is the effacement and dilatation stage and the actual birth of the baby stage. This is because pushing urge and contractions can be affected by the anesthesia and become sluggish. Your physician will most likely give Oxytocin to speed up the delivery. If given too early, labor initiation may be compromised, and risk for C-Section is increased especially for overweight patients. There is significant drop in BP after epidural administration. Because of this, mothers also may feel nauseated and dizzy. Lower milk supply is also reported to be a side effect of epidural. This hinders with baby bonding and baby nutrition. There are also reports that mothers may loose sensation in their lower extremities which may last up to two weeks after delivery.
How about the Baby?
If the drop in BP is higher than expected, there will be decreased blood going to the baby. The risk for fetal distress is then increased. Because of the anesthesia given, babies are born sluggish, with low APGAR score and some of them even needed resuscitation. Some reports say that babies are noticeably disoriented and unable to latch on to their mother’s nipples, therefore, not able to get adequate nutrition combined with the decreased milk supply. This leads to early introduction of milk formula which is not that good for the baby compared to breast milk.