This is a guest post by Samantha Radford, and her bio can be found at the bottom!
If you’re reading this post, congratulations! I hope you’re excited about meeting your new baby soon. And if your due date is soon, I’m sure you’re learning lots more about labor and delivery.
Epidurals, Pitocin, membrane rupture… there’s lots of terms to learn about and lots of options for your child’s birth! Should you choose any of these things, or go for a low-intervention birth (or even no-intervention birth)? The best thing you can do is to educate yourself so you can make the best decision for you and your baby.
Here in the United States, we tend to have a lot of birth interventions. In fact, about 30% of labors are induced, and 32% of births were through Cesarean section (although some of these C-sections may have started out as inductions).
On top of that, over 70% of births include an epidural! Since this is such a popular choice, let’s look at the benefits and risks of epidurals for birth, and what you can do to have a peaceful, empowering experience if you choose to opt for an unmedicated birth. As a mother of three, I have experienced both epidural births and unmedicated births. There are definite pros and cons to each, both during birth itself and in those days and weeks after. To help you decide what to do, I want to share my story.
An epidural involves a needle being placed in the space near your spinal column near your lower back. Once placed, the needle stays there for the duration of your labor, delivering drug to your lower back and abdomen. Generally, your epidural numbs you from the waist down, so you get (nearly) complete pain relief from labor contractions.
On the other hand, you can’t walk around, can’t change positions very easily, and will need a catheter at some point.
During my first labor, I had an epidural. I will say, it made a big difference in reducing pain! I was more relaxed and calm after it was placed.
But on the other hand, there were some difficulties after my birth related to the epidural. Once my legs regained feeling and it was time for me to make my first trip to the restroom, I got up, and immediately was very dizzy and nauseated. The nurses told me it was due to a blood pressure drop from the epidural. I had to lie back down for about twenty minutes, letting someone else hold my brand-new baby girl. In fact, I was so miserable that I didn’t even care that I had a brand-new baby girl!
While these didn’t happen to me, there can be other rare side effects related to epidurals. If they’re placed wrong, it is possible for them to cause severe headaches or even nerve damage. But again, these risks are rare.
On the other hand, epidurals can also affect your new baby. Despite the drug being injected into your spinal column, some of it does end up in your bloodstream, which then reaches your baby.
There is some evidence that an epidural can lower your chances of breastfeeding success. Babies tend to be sleepier when they are born after an epidural, and it’s more difficult to get them to latch successfully. In fact, my first daughter didn’t latch very well her second day, and it was hard to get her interested in eating (fortunately, I knew I could spoon feed her colostrum, and she was fine by the next day).
My second and third labors were unmedicated. And they were very different experiences! Preparation makes a big difference.
For my second labor, I planned on probably getting an epidural again, but I wasn’t sure. Still, I hadn’t done anything to prepare for an unmedicated birth besides read a few natural labor stories on the internet.
My second labor was only three hours from start to finish! We woke up with me in labor around six in the morning, fed my daughter and dropped her off at daycare (I still remember cutting up strawberries for her between contractions), and raced to the hospital.
My second little girl was born 45 minutes after we hit the hospital door. Since this was such an intense labor, trust me, I wanted those drugs! But as it turned out, by the time the anesthesiologist got there, I was already in transition (the most intense part of labor, right before pushing), so between my writhing and screaming and general freaking out, he wasn’t able to get the epidural in me in time. And as I was sitting there, my water broke, and my body immediately informed me that it was time to push.
BUT, once I calmed down and was able to focus on what I was doing, pushing was much easier. It hurt at first, but then I experienced what has lovingly been referred to as the “ring of fire.” After a brief burning (yes, down there) as my baby was crowning, everything went numb all on its own, and pushing was actually the easiest part of labor!
When my second baby girl was born, she latched much more easily and quickly than her sister had, within ten minutes of birth! And we never had a single hiccup with her breastfeeding.
And the best part of going drug free?
I was able to walk around, do what I needed to do, and everything right after birth. No nausea, no feeling like I was going to pass out. And even after we got home from the hospital, I continued to have a much easier recovery from the birth process.
When I became pregnant a third time, I remembered just how much easier it was to recover from my second birth. Plus, I realized that I had survived! It was possible to have a drug-free birth! So I decided to plan on no epidural for my third child.
To start preparing for my birth, I began a prenatal yoga class by about 14 weeks of my pregnancy. I learned what muscles I needed to strengthen and how to take care of my body.
I also checked out the hypnobirthing philosophy. It basically involves listening to self-hypnosis tracks to help you breathe through and stay calm during contractions.
When the time came for my baby to arrive, I was ready. I listened to my hypnobirthing track on loop at the hospital and actually really was zoned out sometimes! I stayed calm, even when labor got intense. And when I had to actually get up onto my knees to help my baby change position, I was able to do that because I was unmedicated!
When my baby boy finally came, it was the most empowering experience I’d ever had. Just like my second baby, he latched almost immediately, and his birth was a beautiful experience.
That’s up to you. There are certainly risks and benefits to each, and only you can decide.
But for me… if I were to do this again, I would hands down choose the unmedicated birth. For one thing, I really dislike nausea, and all the pain relief of the epidural can’t make up for those twenty minutes of feeling like death afterwards (at least for me).
On top of that, seeing the difference in both my recovery and my baby’s alertness and breastfeeding ability directly after birth really shows me the advantage of going drug free.
Do what’s best for you and your child, and if you want more information on an unmedicated birth, I’d love to hear from you!
Samantha Radford, the mommy behind Evidence-based Mommy, is a mom with three children of her own, so she has a vested interest in learning all she can about parenting. She has a PhD in chemistry with a Public Health background and delivers her expertise in maternal-child health, mindfulness, and related topics in a way that is actually useful to you. So if you are scared whether you’re doing this parenting thing right or just completely burnt-out by your overflowing to-do list, she’s here to help.