For Mums

Epidurals: Myths Vs Facts


Epidurals are the most common analgesics given during labour. Around 60% of Indian women are now opting for it, saying that there is no need to bear the grunt of labour pains now. But as the debate goes by, on whether the epidural is a hero or a villain, we would bust the most common myths expectant parents have regarding some misconceptions.



How is the epidural inserted?

Myth: It’s a giant needle which is poked into the lower back, and it hurts when inserted.

Fact: The anaesthetic site will be rubbed with an antiseptic solution and numbed with a local anaesthetic before the epidural needle is inserted into your lower back.The sting is almost similar to when you take a blood test sample. You will feel a tingling sensation for about a minute. During that one minute, a catheter is threaded through the needle into the epidural space. The needle is then removed and catheter stays in place. You might feel pressure but not pain.



Does epidural affect the baby?

Myth: Epidural doesn’t even reach the baby.

Fact: Any medications given will reach the baby no matter what. However, the amount of medication that reaches your bloodstream is small and with spinal injections, it’s even smaller. This small amount doesn’t affect the baby at all, neither in the short run nor in the long run.



Does epidural affect pushing or progressing of labour?

Myth: Epidurals doesn’t affect pushing or labour time at all.

Fact: Epidurals increases both labour time and pushing time. Labour time increases by an average of 20 minutes and pushing time by an average of 15 minutes. This is because your body needs heat for labour and for pushing too. Once you get an epidural, the sweat and breathing through contractions decreases a little bit which makes the process last longer.



Does an epidural make pushing difficult?

Myth: Epidural doesn’t affect the pushing at all.

Fact: Epidural causes numbness in the same muscles which you require during pushing. However, it will affect them only if there are larger doses of epidurals present in your body. So it’s better that you wait for the epidural until you reach active stages of labour, which is after you have dilated at least 4-5 centimetres.

In some cases, it has been noticed that the combination of spinal and epidurals have actually helped the women to get rid of pain without having total numbness. This eventually made pushing easier. Lower dose also decreases the chances of forceps or vacuum assisted delivery.



Can a woman walk after she gets an epidural?

Myth: Women can easily walk you have got a ‘walking epidural’.

Fact: This is so not true. Once you get an epidural, your blood pressure drops. This is called hypotension. This is normal and doctors are already prepared for this. With appropriate measures, this affects neither the mother nor the baby. In order to ensure adequate blood flow to the baby you are given IV fluids and in some cases oxygen. Continuous fetal monitoring becomes important. Many doctors do not encourage to walk with an epidural. However, tossing and turning in bed is completely fine. Alternating sides is really important since laying on one side for long can slow down labour or wear off the effects of epidural from the other side.



Do epidurals have any side effects during labour?

Myth: Epidurals increases the chances of C-section and exacerbates nausea, dizziness etc.

Fact: First of all, there is no link at all between a C-section and an epidural. In fact, if by any chance you need to have an emergency C-section, having an epidural already in your body makes the process easier and faster for the doctor.

Another common side-effect from epidural is developing fever and itching. Some women noticed an increase in their temperature and sudden itchiness in face and hands right after they got their first dose of epidural. The rise in temperature is especially common for a first time mother even without an epidural. Antibiotics can control the temperature if the increase is more than usual.

Nausea is a common symptom of labour. Most women don’t know about it and aren’t even prepared for it. Epidural may or may not increase these symptoms. The effects on the intensity of nausea are also very low. You will experience nausea and might even vomit a lot through contractions. This is your body’s way of preparing for labour.

Headaches due to the epidural is a very rare problem. Making sure that you are resting well during postpartum can help. If the pain worsens, contact your doctor.



Does epidural always work?

Myth: Epidurals doesn’t reduce the pain that often.

Fact: First of all, you need to know that epidurals can take 15-20 minutes to dissolve and show some effects on your body. Second, of all, the epidural might seem to work on one side of the body if the catheter is not placed properly or the mother stays in the same position for a while. Epidural can wear off if your contractions are going stronger. Don’t worry just ask for more dosage to reduce the pain. Epidural might also doesn’t work if you are in very late stages of your labour.


Use of epidurals is still debatable. With so many options becoming available including water birth and home birth, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the expectant parents to decide on a birth plan. The main thing you should look out for while deciding it should be the pros and cons of each decision and what arrangements does your hospital provide for that.  Getting updated on the medical procedures seems to be a good way to start planning for your childbirth. 

How was your experience with the epidural? How well did it work for you? Tell us in the Comments Box below.


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