The truth about the safety of epidurals

Obstetrician Gynecologist Lauren Hyman, MD, shares advice for pregnant women on the truth about the safety of using epidurals during pregnancy
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The truth about the safety of epidurals

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Epidurals are the most commonly asked for anesthesia in obstetrics. Over 50% of women who give birth in hospitals have epidural. You know, the interesting thing is there is no other situation where someone is in severe pain is under the care of the doctor. There's medicine that can alleviate that pain, and yet they're discouraged from getting that pain relief. And, that's really unfortunate for the women who are going through that process. What is an epidural? An epidural is a catheter that's placed in to the back that delivers a combination of an anesthetic and a narcotic that helps to numb the lower half of the body and relieve the pain. It does that by numbing the nerves that innervate the lower half of the body. Are there risks to an epidural? Well, there can be risks to anything, but there can be risks to not having an epidural as well. So, the risks of the epidural for the mother can include a drop in blood pressure. If the mother gets the epidural too early, it can, may not, but it can affect the labor process or the ability to push later on. Of course, the epidural can be titrated up and down. So, if the woman is receiving too much medication to be able to feel the need to push, the epidural can be lowered. And, for the baby, there's a lot of debate of whether the epidural actually affects the latching response to the baby. I can tell you that I had an epidural both times and both of my children nurse for 14 months and neither of them ever got formula. So, in my case, I can't imagine having gone through my labor process without it. Now, that being said, every woman has to make the decision for themselves and there are a lot of different pain options that women can avail themselves of. But, as far as what their options are, epidural tends to be the safest one if they do want something for pain. It's important to discuss all of your options with your doctor or your midwife, but know that these options exist. I had patients all the time who decide that they want a natural labor process and I applaud them. But, I always tell them that at the end of the day, if they decide to accept the epidural for pain control, they shouldn't feel guilty about the decision. I always tell my patients that do not get different food on postpartum or a gold star on their forehead if they end up going natural versus accepting the epidural. It really has to be what feels right during the labor process. You know, for some women, when they accept the epidural, they are able to rest. That gives them a lot more energy to be able to push during the second stage of labor. Sometimes, labor is very long and they need that rest. Also, relaxing can help dilate the cervix. For some women, having the epidural actually allows them to enjoy their labor and delivery process where they might otherwise not enjoy it at all. So, getting an epidural for some woman can be a very, very positive experience and no one should feel guilty if they decide to make the choice to have pain relief in a very painful situation.

Obstetrician Gynecologist Lauren Hyman, MD, shares advice for pregnant women on the truth about the safety of using epidurals during pregnancy

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Lauren D. Hyman, MD

Obstetrician Gynecologist

Dr. Lauren Hyman is a board-certified obstetrician gynecologist. After receiving her ScB from Brown University and her medical degree from Yale University, Dr. Hyman returned to Southern California where she has been in private practice in the West Hills area for fifteen years. She can be seen weekly on Hallmark Channelʼs Home and Family Pregnancy Series and is a contributing writer on mom.me. She lives with her husband and two children in Los Angeles.

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