Epidural analgesia is the most popular form of pain relief for laboring moms in the United States. The medication is given continuously through a catheter that is inserted in the epidural space in the back. It provides effective pain relief during labor and birth, but it can have numerous side effects. All risks and benefits of an epidural should be carefully considered before a decision is made.
Drop in Blood Pressure
An epidural can make your blood pressure drop suddenly so you are given a full bag of intravenous fluids before the epidural is administered. Once you have an epidural, your blood pressure will be continuously monitored to make sure it remains within normal range as a low blood pressure can affect the baby. If your blood pressure drops severely, you may need medication and additional oxygen.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, fewer than 1 percent of women experience a headache. However, if the dura mater, the outermost membrane covering the spinal cord, is inadvertently punctured during the procedure, you could experience a severe headache, called a spinal headache. Most headaches resolve in 24 hours on their own, but if it continues, contact your health care provider.
There is a risk of slowed labor after epidural administration. When you are active during labor, it progresses quicker with the help of gravity. When you get the epidural, you are confined to bed and movement is limited which can slow progress. If labor slows down, it will be augmented with synthetic oxytocin, also known as Pitocin.
Getting the epidural may make the pushing phase more difficult because you can’t feel to push. If you are struggling to push the baby out, your doctor may use interventions, such as forceps or vacuum extraction, to assist with delivery. If your baby is not low enough in the vaginal canal for your doctor to use these techniques, a cesarean may become necessary.
More Common Side Effects
The following side effects are most common in epidural anesthesia: soreness in the back where the catheter was placed, nausea and vomiting, shivering, a slower recovery and an additional need for assistance within the first few hours after birth.
Less Common Side Effects
Although serious side effects are rare, you should consider them before choosing epidural anesthesia. According to Childbirth.org, some rare yet serious side effects include loss of bowel and bladder function, convulsions, allergic reaction or shock, septic meningitis, paralysis, cardiac arrest and maternal death.
Effect on Babies
There are potential side effects for babies. These include drug toxicity, fetal distress, poor sucking reflex at birth, poor muscle strength and tone after birth, neonatal jaundice, decreased maternal-infant bonding and long-term behavioral problems.