Published on June 15, 2017

Top 5 Questions About Epidurals Answered

Sarah Elliott, PGYIII, Department of Obstetrics & Maternity

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I once walked into a patient's room to hear her nurse saying, "If you wouldn't get a root canal without anesthesia, why would you beat yourself up about wanting an epidural in labor?" To me, this sums up the confusion, guilt and pressure that many women, especially first time moms, feel surrounding the topic of epidurals. They feel they are "giving in" to the anesthesia when there are very few other situations where they would accept untreated, severe pain. Although the ultimate decision about whether or not to get one belongs to you and your doctor, I want to clear away a few myths that can cloud the picture. Below are the top 5 questions I am asked by patients when they are considering their epidural.

Woman holding newborn baby in delivery room. "Top 5 Questions About Epidurals Answered" [BLOG]1. Do most women get epidurals?

60% of women having a single baby (not twins) will get regional anesthesia through their spine. You need only request one. There are no requirements for getting an epidural beyond the desire to have pain control.

2. Will it slow down my labor?

The first stage of labor (the time when you're dilating) will take the same length of time, whether you have an epidural or not. The second stage of labor (the time that you're pushing) averages 13 minutes longer with an epidural than without one.

3. Will it increase my chances of getting a C-section?

No. The rate of C-section is the same for women who get an epidural than for those who do not. The rate of operative delivery (e.g needing to use forceps or vacuum) does increase.

4. How early is too early?

This is the most common question because OB/GYNs still differ on what they recommend. Studies tell us that epidurals at any time during labor do not increase the rate of C-section. It's ok to discuss getting an epidural at any dilation and your OB/GYN can give you their recommendation.

5. How will it affect my baby?

The risks and benefits of an epidural vary from person to person. Overall, epidurals are safe. Babies have equal Apgar scores (a test of well-being based on how the baby looks after birth) after epidural deliveries and non-epidural deliveries.

Stamford Hospital supports all safe plans for pain management in labor. Many of our patients do not choose to get an epidural and have very positive birth experiences. If you think an epidural is right for you, we encourage you to bring your questions and concerns with you to one of your prenatal visits. Talking to your doctor ahead of time will allow you to discuss your individual risks and benefits and make a plan that's right for you.