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12 Epidural Realities

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By Aisha Al Hajjar, AMANI on 21 October 2012.

SOME women love their epidurals (medication administered straight into the spinal cord space during labor to numb the body from the waist down so that she doesn’t feel her labor or birth). But I wonder how many have considered the added risks and realities before they consent to it, or the cascade of other interventions that happen once it is administered.

Did You Know:

The medication used for epidural is a narcotic (in the same family as cocaine)?
The medication reaches your baby within sixty seconds?
There will be extra procedures and possible complications done to you because of the epidural?
Due to the increased risk of fetal distress caused by epidural, your baby’s heart rate must be more closely monitored (why put your baby at added risk)?
Due to the increased risk of maternal blood pressure problems, your blood pressure must be more closely monitored (why put yourself at added risk)?
You will have no control over your bladder or bowel and will therefore be given a catheter (long tube inserted into your urethra that stays in place to keep your urine drained into a bag that will be hung under your bed)?
Having a catheter increases risks of bladder infection after birth?
The epidural will likely slow your labor and make it longer?
You will likely be given synthetic hormones to make your contractions harder due to the relaxing effect the epidural has on your womb muscles and these harder, drug induce contractions are more stressful on your baby?
If you can sit totally still during contractions so that they can administer the drug, you are probably strong enough to handle your labor without it?!?
Some women get no relief from epidural at all, yet it still adds all the increased risks to their baby and there will be no refunds!?!
If you Google “Epidural Accident” you will find over 700,000 results?

First Hand Epidural Accident Story

I want to share with you the story of someone I know personally. She lives in the United States. Like many mothers, she fears the pain of labor and likes the idea of drugs to numb her instead. In fact, she fears the pain so much that she schedules her baby’s birth a couple of weeks before her due date and goes into the hospital for her epidural and then induction. In this way, she skips even the first few contractions and she is perfectly happy with that.

This worked well for her first two births. However, when she went in for the third something went wrong. Somehow the epidural numbed her from the nose down, rather than the waist down. Suddenly she couldn’t breathe; her lungs were paralyzed by the epidural-gone-wrong. This phenomenon, called pulmonary paralysis, although rare, is one of the more common epidural risks.

Thankfully, in her case, fast action was taken by her medical team. The obstetrician did a bedside cesarean delivery while the anesthesiologist worked to insert a tube down her throat and hooked her up to a breathing machine that breathed for her until the epidural wore off. This was a true emergency and the quick work of her medical team saved hers and her baby’s lives.

However, since it was done in such urgency, the sterility of the procedure was not maintained and she and her baby ended up with severe infections after birth. In fact, they both almost died after the birth and were very sick and on strong antibiotics for about six months.

What’s most ironic to me is the mother’s response to this. She told me, “Thank God for my doctor! Can you imagine if I had considered a home birth? My baby and I would have died!”

I’m just shaking my head and thinking, “Really?!? You’re grateful that your hospital induced emergency was solved by the same people who caused it in the first place?” I’m sorry, but from my perspective there’s some missing logic in that one!

Get Educated

Even if you are sold on the idea of an epidural, get educated about the risks and benefits before making a final decision. Also consider at least trying to go natural and see how it goes. If you take the time to learn how to work with your body and to prepare for the birth you just might find that you don’t need the epidural and all it’s risks after all. Besides the education won’t hurt and you might learn some valuable things for your journey to motherhood that you’d miss otherwise.

Considering the Realities

Now that you know some of the realities of the “magic” epidural, I hope you might think twice about it. Childbirth really isn’t all that bad if you learn how to work with your body and prepare for it. Trust me, if it were so unbearable I would not have eight children, subhan’Allah!


What an excellent article by an informed educator and mother!

After participating in the Natural Childbirth World for over 24 years and as a proponent of Family Birth at home, I can only applaud Aisha Al Hajjar for this excellent analysis of the many realities surrounding the use of Epidural Anethesia.

In my own research around the use of Spinal Drugs during labor I discovered that doctors in the US set out to “sell” this technology and intervention to Mothers through various mediums in the media. Whenever I am with a group of pregnant women gushing about their excitement for the “epidural”, I think about the marketers who have so effectively played up the benefits while downplaying and even dismissing the risks associated with a major narcotic being injected into spinal fluid.

Two of the most common side effects not mentioned in the article are Spinal Headache after birth as well as backache. My mother experienced the headache after the birth of her seventh child and how sad that her early bonding time was encroached upon by the mother of all headaches. She had to have a blood patch epidural to fix it. I experienced the backache after my second birth. I had a c section for a breech birth, and while I was grateful to use the epidural for the surgery so as to be awake when my daughter was born, the resulting pain that occurred at the injection site in my back was almost as bad as the incision after birth.

I was adjusted by my chiropracter three weeks after the surgery and he told me that I had suffered a lumbar sprain. Fortunately he was able to fix it, but I was in an incredible amount of pain after that birth, a type of pain that just didn’t exist after my four undrugged births.

One of the biggest reasons that mothers request an epidural is because they have been artificially induced before the child is ready to be born and the early stimulation of the labor with drugs makes the contractions unbearably painful.

As a promoter of spontaneous natural birth I can only encourage parents to arm themselves with the facts before blindly accepting any intervention or medication while birthing their children.

The delcate balance of hormones, endorphins, and family connections should not be trifled with.

When health care professionals mess with parents abilites to properly bond with their children, they are on sacred ground.

A sense of wonder and reverence should be the goal during every birth and drugs, surgery, and interventions should only be used in the most extreme cases.

Jenny Hatch
Childbirth Educator and Mother of five
Cedar City Utah USA

Second Comment:

When I just got married, someone gave me a pregnancy / parenting book as a gift and it was those typical pregnancy preparation guides. When it came to birth, the book listed the risks of epidurals as “none.”

When I was pregnant with my first, I attended an ante-natal class – it started with a 30 minute video of how AMAZING an epidural is – as if it were the best invention and the saviour to mankind. Some mothers asked the OBGYN re the risks of the anaesthesia and he denied that there were any at all.

Needless to say, I was thankful that my epidurals worked during my c-sections as I coped really badly during both births. But I am not thankful for the actual epidural. I realise I was completely fooled into believing that birth was terrible and painful and that the only way to go was to be heavily medicated.

After self-educating myself on birth, I birthed two more babies naturally without even a hint of needing medicalised pain-relief.

Aisha is right. We don’t necessarily need pain medication. We have an in-built system that helps cope with the sensations. After self-learning everything possible about birth, I don’t believe birth is inherently painful, it’s just that we’ve been immersed in a culture that dictates that birth is horrible and that the medical industry provides the only solution to it. In fact, by presenting the epidural as a pain-relief mechanism, we are already warning mothers that pain WILL be on the menu and luckily, you can have an epidural as a side dish.

Telling women that there is no risk to an epidural is very dangerous at multiple levels. The health risks but the risk of exemplifying the culture that women can’t birth without some sort of chemical-based assistance.

We should be better educated. It took me some time to get there and I do hope more women don’t have to go through bad experiences or live with the consequences before fully understanding how natural birth really is.

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