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What are the Pros and Cons of an Epidural for Labor?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anesthesia administered by epidural can pose risks for both the mother and child, so the pros and cons of choosing an epidural for labor pain is generally a subject that requires careful consideration for both the mother and her doctor. Epidurals are generally considered an excellent way to manage pain during labor and delivery. In addition, epidurals allow for a quick and effective method of delivering any additional medications that the mother may require during labor. For the mother, the risk associated with epidural for labor can include dangerous lowering of blood pressure and prolonged labor. For the unborn child, risks are considered minor, but can include sluggish responses at birth and irregular heart beat.

Most women choose an epidural for labor because they want to avoid the pain associated with childbirth, and in most cases, if administered properly, epidurals work well. Most women who opt for this method of pain management claim that they experience little or no pain when contractions occur. In some cases, they may not even realize a contraction is occurring. This general relief from pain often keeps the mother calm and helps her avoid exhaustion. In some cases, epidurals can help keep the mother’s blood pressure from spiking.

Sometimes doctors have reason to suspect that a delivery could result in the need to perform a cesarean section, also referred to as a c-section. This is a type of delivery when the baby is surgically removed by cutting through the abdomen into the uterus. Sometimes c-sections are planned ahead of time, but often they are the result of emergencies that arise during labor. If the mother has already chosen an epidural for labor, it greatly increases the speed with which a c-section can be performed. In emergency situations, the time that is saved could be critical to the health of both the mother and child.

Much of the risk associated with an epidural for labor comes from the possibility of human error in administering both the injection and the dosage. The side effects of an improperly administered epidural can be as mild as slight physical discomfort and as severe as permanent paralysis or even death. Common side effects of an epidural for labor include headache, backache, and pain in the legs. Severe side effects are considered quite rare, but women should be advised of all possible dangers and benefits before making a decision regarding epidural anesthesia.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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