The Big Bad Epidural

by Mrs. BWF on January 26, 2012

The Natural Birth Community is quick to say, “Don’t do it! You can do it without it! An Epidural is dangerous! It is evil and causes problems!” Mostly, this is true. You CAN do it naturally and Epidurals do come with risks to mom and baby.

There are studies, personal experiences and more that show Epidurals are a drug, has risks, and effect the mother’s body and the newborn as such. They also can slow down labor and be the beginning of a cascade of interventions. If you didn’t want  pitocin, constant monitoring, not being able to move around, etc., those options are no longer yours. Epidurals often lead to purple pushing, tearing, episiotimies and cesarean births.

That is all true.

As you can see though, I linked to information about Epidurals and their risks. I will not go over that here. This is not another blog post to tell you how horrible you are if you birthed your little one with an Epidural.

Is the Epidural always evil? Is there never a good use for one? Just like with any allopathic remedy or intervention, it is there for a reason. Unfortunately, it (the epidural and other interventions) are used far too often, when NOT necessary. This is why many are quick to say, “It’s pure evil!” What is missed though, is those times when it is needed. When it serves its purpose. When it does good. Yes, I said good.

Here are a few examples when an Epidural is a blessing to a mother.

Mom has become too exhausted. She has had a long labor and has become too tired and can not rest. In this case, an epidural may help her to get the rest she needs. Her uterus can still contract and baby can move down the birth canal. It is a better outcome than an unnecessary surgery. It would be best to help ensure mom gets adequate rest when she can during labor to prevent exhaustion from occurring.

Malposition of baby. When a baby is not in an ideal position it can cause a very painful, long labor. It may become difficult for mom to relax as baby tries to turn with the contractions. I’ve been there…twice. It’s so painful. I got an epi with one and did not with the other. Optimally, mom will do what she can during pregnancy to help baby find a great position. There are also things you can do with your midwife or OB in labor to help baby shift (hands and knees rocking, etc).

Fear. Yes, that is a valid reason for an Epidural. If a mother can not work through her fears in pregnancy and they are carried over into her labor, her uterus will not have the blood supply it needs and may not be able to work at its best. This also causes a great deal of pain. There is more information about this in the book, Hypnobirthing, the Mongan Method. Having an epidural will allow the woman’s body to do its job without her fear (mind) getting in the way. Of course it would be wonderful if all women could Birth Without Fear, but that is not the real world.

Lack of support. I truly hope all women will have the support she needs to birth so that this is not an issue. However, if she doesn’t she may find that she needs an epidural to be calm and birth.

Any situation where it helps avoid an unnecessary cesarean section.

A Cesarean Birth (instead of a spinal).

Remember, each woman, pregnancy, labor and birth are unique. I know this is not a popular view on Epidurals in the Natural Birth World, but it is reality.

Please, if you are researching Epidurals, use the links I’ve given in this post. Try to do what you can to avoid your chances of needing an Epidural.

Sometimes though, it can’t be avoided and that is OK. That is what it is there for. It is my hope that women can work through fears, have the right support and be able to avoid an unnecessary Epidural. However, the Big Bad Epidural is not always evil.

*Picture of Dale by Studio Viohl

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

Meg January 26, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Definitely not always evil, I was just talking to my bestie. She is planning on trying to have her first in a few years after losing some weight. She knows I had my dd all naturally. And while she would love to do that she is just not a person who handles pain well at all. She actually had an IUD put in yesterday and she had to be fully put to sleep for it. While she would love to do it all naturally, she already knows that an epidural is what is best for her and her baby!

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Andrea March 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Having an IUD put in is WAY the hell different than giving birth. I had an endometrial biopsy recently and just about passed out from the pain. Doc said most folks hardly even feel it. However, I gave birth at home naturally with very little issue.

I would never advise that a person actually PLAN for an epidural; that’s like planning for it to be too painful to handle, but the birth culture being the sad, awful, frightening thing it is in hospitals these days, I don’t blame women for needing help.

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Liz January 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I got an epi with my son because I was feeling pushy when I was only 5cm. HOLY OW. It was great because I was able to rest until I needed to push, and he was out in 15 minutes. In that situation, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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chantel January 27, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I was only in labor for 6 hours but i did get an epi and im not ashamed of it. i had been 4cm for almost 4 weeks before i had my water broken at the hospital. as soon as my water broke i started having stronger contractions back to back and was growing weak and the pain would cause my to tighten my body instead of relax it. i asked for an epidural at 5cm and then i was laughing through contractions! i was able to relax and take a nap and by the time i was checked i was fully dilated. the epidural took my pain which allowed me to relax my body and let it push my baby girl out on its own when i felt the urge to push 30mins later i was allowed crowing! my daughter was out in 20 minutes after 6 hours of labor :). i would do it all over again if i had too. i actualy say i rather push her out over and over again then breastfeed her. haha

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Shawna Goettig January 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Love this post! Thank you! I had an epidural after 3 days of induction for bad PIH and I simply couldn’t handle it anymore. I did end up with a c-section but believe I would have whether or not I had the epidural. Round 2 this time and I am trying for a HBAC with no signs of PIH yet! Thanks again!

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Sarah January 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I was one of those mamas who needed the epi to relax. I had really hard back labor due to a posterior baby and after 12 hours I was nearly passing out with each contraction. I’d been stuck at 4cm for a few hours. I got the epi and within 20 min I jumped to 8cm. It did it’s job. Now I just hope I don’t need it at all next time. :)

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Amanda Sandoval September 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Back labor is evil! lol I had back labor for over a week with my son (he was posterior) before I was finally admitted to the hospital. I basically lived in my bath tub, was 5cm when I arrived at the hospital. My 2nd labor, no back labor this time, was amazing! My first ended up in an emergency c-section due to cord prolapse.

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Ali April 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Your birth experience sounds very similar to mine! The back labor drained me physically and mentally. I was to the point where I was falling asleep seconds after each contraction would end, and waking up in pure terror from the sudden pain. I do feel though that if I had more support (such as a doula or two, a birthing suite with a tub) that I may have been able to it naturally. However, plain and simple, I didn’t. I still had a great birth experience given the entire situation.
Thank you BWF for posting this article. In some mama-groups there is some shame that goes along with an epi, it’s good to remember that there is a time and place for everything, and that every birth is different!

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sarah January 26, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Thank you, thank you for this post. I wanted a drug-free labor. I planned for it. I read books. I researched. Then, after I had been in labor for over 24 hours and dilated to 8, I decided to get an epidural. I was able to rest, for which I am thankful, because I pushed for three hours. I was pushing correctly, but it just took that long. Part of me feels a little sad that I could not reach my initial goal, but my baby was born healthy and looked straight into my eyes as soon as she was born. Really, that’s most important to me anyway.

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Page January 26, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Eventhough we took Bradley classes and wanted an intervention free birth for our first (DD 3mos old), I labored w/o anything for 12 hours overnight in the hospital (very supportive RN’s and OBGYN), but by the time 8am rolled around, we talked about it as an option. I had been up all night, and by 5:30 am, I was so tired that I fell asleep through intense contractions for about an hour. I woke up in a fog, and something told me that I needed help. I tried not to feel like a failure. The last thing I wanted was to be so tired that my Doc would threaten a C-section….It ended up being the right decision for us…

I got the epidural, my husband and I had them put it on the lowest possible dose, and I slept for 3 hours. I woke up feeling great, so we turned the epidural off! By then I was fully dilated, and actually felt like I wanted to push. 40 min later, I had a beautiful baby in my arms! I felt her come out and everything!! I still want my home birth the next time around!!!

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C. Beth January 26, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I had a rockin’ water birth with #2, but with #1, I didn’t. Because I was AFRAID. Knowing the epi was available helped me not to fear labor and birth.

Part of me wishes I’d done it differently, but I know…that’s just not “where I was” at the time. I made the decision that really seemed best at the time, based on my experience and, yes, my fear. I’m SO glad that I was at a totally different place with the second, and that I could have such an amazing natural birth. But I actually did have a really great medicated birth the first time, and I’m glad that I had a “tool” to deal with my fear…even if my “tool” (an epidural) isn’t one I’d choose again.

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Rachael January 29, 2012 at 1:35 am

I feel similarly about my first. I had an epidural partially because they gave me pitocin and I knew I wanted one if I was going to have the pit. Part of me wishes that I had known I didn’t have to do that. I could have waited, let me body take care of it, and done it on my own. But I was terrified of labor with my first because I was not educated enough, because that’s what happens in this country, and that’s just where I was at the time too. With my 2nd I had an all natural birth.

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Reannan Keene January 26, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I have ran the gauntlett when it comes to birth it seems. I have had a c/s with no trial of labor. I had an unmedicated VBAC (homebirth transfer) and an induced labor with an epidural this last time. There is a time and place for help. I love the point of making your own peace with that as a woman and doing what is best for you with each labor and delivery with out fear. <3

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Gail January 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm

I really like this post. My EDD is March 28th, its my first baby, AFTER finding your blog, I decided to go the natural route, and switched from and OB to a CNM, at my last appointment she said something about Epidurals that made a lot of sense to me…

” There is a different between the pain of laboring, and actually suffering, only if I see that you are truly suffering, will I offer pain medication”

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Samantha R. January 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm

A reason that may not occur at first, because it is something we hate to think about is if the mom is delivering a still baby. I did all the right things, took all right pills, ate all the right food, but because of a cord accident my Asher died just after my water broke. It was no fault of any person…. just an act of God or some would say a fluke. I labored naturally in and out of the shower for 6 hours (not long as far as labor is concerned, I know) and when I reached my own breaking point I was already 8cm. I asked for that epidural, and by the time it was administered and took effect I was already 10cm. 10mins later my son’s body was in my arms. I didn’t have much in the way of support simply because no one knew what to do for me. And honestly I don’t know that I’d have let anyone into my heart and head at that time anyway. But having the blessing of that epidural right at the end allowed me to be able to focus on my son, and not on any after-pains or things like that. It is also what allowed me to sleep when I was finally alone hours later because it still hadn’t fully worn off. That epidural was a good thing that day.

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Mrs. BWF January 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm

I am so sorry for you loss Samantha and you bring up something I did not think of. Thank you for sharing your story and insight.

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Reannan Keene January 26, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Same reason i chose an epidural, for our still daughter. I completely understand. I am so sorry for you Samantha <3.

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Samantha R. January 27, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Thank you both. I am one who will shout to the heavens about all the bad an epidural can do… but for some moms, at some times, the epi is needed relief. And Reannan, I’m so sorry for your loss… my heart always breaks for those who fight the same battle as me. <3

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Kellan January 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Thank you for showing the good side of the “Big Bad Epi” as well. :)

I had one with the birth of my son (who is my first) & had planned on one with my daughter – but she had other plans. And looking back, I’m SO GLAD she did! After laboring only two hours (contractions were strongish, regular, and worse when I moved), we headed to the hospital, two hours away. Well, I hit transition when I was about 5 mins away! So by the time they got me to L&D, I was pushing & just hadn’t known it. All I knew was it HURT so I was vocal about it! Of course, by the time I was on the bed & out of my bottoms, it was too late for an epi & out she shot.

Now I’ve done the research and will never have an unnecessary epi again – because giving birth under my own will, strength, and power was about the greatest experience of my life! This is NOT to say all of them are bad/wrong…as you stated, every woman, & even every pregnancy is different – as such, they need different sorts of handling. Congrats to all you mamas who worked so hard, even though you had an epidural!

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Jessica Austin, Birth Doula January 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Great article! Love this: “Unfortunately, it (the epidural and other interventions) are used far too often, when NOT necessary. This is why many are quick to say, “It’s pure evil!” What is missed though, is those times when it is needed. When it serves its purpose. When it does good. Yes, I said good.” I wrote an article on a similar topic recently: Do Doulas Trust Women? You can find it here: http://www.birthtakesavillage.com/do-doulas-trust-women-2/

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Amy January 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm

I had intended to labor without any drugs whatsoever, and I almost made it! I lost my plug the day before my due date, and I was so excited that I could not rest at all. So when I went into labor at ten that night, I was in for the long haul. I made it to 8.5 cm naturally, but I had been up for 24 hours at that point and knew I was too exhausted to push when the time came. I’m glad I had the epidural, but I am hoping to go natural next time!

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Neigh January 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm

It makes me angry that epidurals are thought of as purely evil. I ended up having to be induced – something I did not plan. I got an epidural when I was 8cm dilated and had the most positive birth experience I could have possibly hoped for! I felt calm, centered, and very present. I was able to feel everything. The pain was not totally gone but it was not mind-numbing and I felt every contraction and could push really well because I felt them. I pushed for only 1 hour 40 minutes, which isn’t so bad for a first birth. My baby was very energetic, looked me right in the eyes, and started breastfeeding immediately. We never had any problems with breastfeeding, and we’re going on strong 2 months later. I never had any side effects as far as I could tell either. I know it will always differ by person, but I want people to know it doesn’t always have to be the end of all positivity. I feel proud of my birth and my baby is doing so well today.

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Emily January 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I had an epi with both my girls.
Both times, my water broke and I never went into labor at all, after hours of waiting. I ended up with pitocin both times.
For my first, I really wanted to go “natural” but the pain was so excruciating with the pitocin that I asked for relief. I went from no labor/contractions at all, to baby born in about 5 hours after the pitocin started. The second time around, I knew my body better and knew how fast I would go once the pitocin started. Sure enough, four hours after the drip, baby was delivered. I went from 2.5 cm to 10 in that short time! Because I had already surrendered the idea of a “natural” birth once pitocin began, my only goal was to be happy and enjoy my birth, not be in agonizing, fearful pain.
My epi did not numb me. I still had pain, I still felt the pushes, and still had to breathe through it. It just took the edge off the crazy pitocin.
If I have another child, I will have the baby at home and deal with everything in the most natural way possible. I would love an opportunity at a fully “normal” birth someday.

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Kyleen Sherwood January 26, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I couldn’t agree more. I had my VBAC this past March, and decided after about 60 hours of labor to get the epidural. My water broke at 5am, and my contractions started back-to-back and strong (posterior baby here, too) around noon. I got the epidural that night, and got my first rest in 3 days. By the time I started pushing at 3:15am, it had worn off quite a bit and I could feel everything. It was a wonderful experience for me, and I think it actually kept me from a c-section. After such a long labor and my water being broken for so long, the fact that my body wasn’t progressing past 5 was a serious concern. The epidural allowed me to relax some and I progressed to 8 within the next 2 hours. I was pushing 2 hours later. At first I was disappointed with asking for the epidural, but once I looked back at it without my natural-birth “epis are evil and for the weak” mindset, I realized that it was a WONDERFUL thing I was able to get that rest, allow my body to progress, and then be able to be present for my son’s birth. While I hope to birth naturally at home next time around, I no longer have regret for this choice. Great blog post, as usual! :)

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Leigh January 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm

I have found as a midwife that up to 20% of first-time moms “need” an epidural. When I say “need” I mean that they are more helpful than harmful and contribute to a better birth than she might have otherwise had. A typical scenario is as you have described: a mom has had a long labor and is exhausted, and her labor has slowed down enough to become ineffective but not enough to give her good rest so she can recharge. At times it becomes counterproductive to continue to strive for a “natural” birth when an epidural-pitocin combination could be exactly what this mom needs in order to have a vaginal birth in the end. I learned the hard way that the difference between a vaginal birth and a c-section sometimes lies in my hands as I discern when to suggest a transport; wait too long, and you sometimes have reduced options. Interestingly, as often as I have come across the exhausted primip (first-time mom) sort of scenario, I have never yet come across a situation where a multip (a mom who has had a baby before) “needed” an epidural.

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Rena March 11, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I did have a multip who needed an epidural. This was baby #5, and I had been supporting mom as her doula for baby #4, so she was a repeat client. Baby #4 was born VERY QUICKLY and though it seemed that mom had coped beautifully/done a great job (from my vantage point) what was not apparent to me until labor with baby #5 was that she had been traumatized during that birth. So much so that she insisted on an epidural for #5 in order to be more “in control” of the birth process. This from a lady who had experienced natural birth in the past! Even her (female) OB (whose style is much more like a midwife) was encouraging her to just hang on for a few minutes. OB even offered (at 7 cm) to break her water, saying to her: You’ll open right up, baby will come right down and you will have this baby in 15 minutes. Nothing doing! Mom really really really really really really wanted an epidural. So she got it. And labor slowed/stalled. And then she got an itty bit of pit. And there she stayed. At 7 cm. So OB suggested breaking her water and having a baby (again) and that’s the way it played. When it was over the OB whispered to me: I wanted to do that HOURS AGO!. But apparently, mom needed the epidural. No amount of coaching, reassurance, cajoling, etc would do what pharmaceuticals could for this lady. I was truly humbled that day and learned an important lesson too!

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Jen March 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I needed an epidural with my second. After a beautiful medication free birth experience with my daughter that only lasted 7 hours start to finish I was prepared to do the same with my son. My contractions with him started at around 7 am. They were five minutes apart and 1.5 minutes long. They continued steady that way until my water broke naturally at 11 pm. By the time I finally got the epidural at 6:30 am I had been up and laboring nearly 24 hours, the baby was positioned and not descending (and no positioning was helping) and my bp was 160/120. All involved agreed an epidural was the best course of action, and though I’ve spent the last year coming to terms with it, I now believe that I could never had my son vaginally without the epidural.

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Ashley January 28, 2012 at 9:50 am

My son was born in October, I fully intended to have a home water birth, but after 70 hours of labor and staying at 8cm for over 14 hours my husband and I made the tough decision to transfer to the hospital. I bawled when I realized we were going to have to go to the hospital. I labored there, with terrible back labor, for another 5 hours before getting an epidural. At which point my husband and midwife advised I get it. I was terribly exhausted after having been unable to sleep for 3 days. I was literally falling asleep while sitting on the birthing ball. It was awful. After getting the epidural I slept for 7 hours before delivering my son. The epidural allowed me to sleep, so I would be able to push him out, and it helped my son turn, he was face up. As soon as my son was born he was a little lethargic, I immediately felt guilt for my choice to have an epidural. That is the one thing I would say is “bad” about these pro home birth circles, they can be a little judgmental. Not all are that way, but each group does seem to have it’s members that are that way. My son ended up being fine, started screaming and crying after a couple minutes. I still struggle a bit with the feelings of guilt over getting the epidural. I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my husband. He was saying as we left the hospital that if I wanted to we could try the home water birth with our next baby. His support was so amazing. My husband worded it this way, we got pregnant to have a wonderful baby, not to have this amazing birth experience, we got what we wanted. No I didn’t get to have the birth experience I wanted but maybe next time, for now I will just snuggle my baby boy and be thankful I didn’t have to have a c-section, and that I have a healthy, chubby, wonderful baby. And I will hope and pray that my next baby can be born at home. I would just urge others to not be judgmental about how women give birth. There is a lot of pressures that come with being a new mom, your judgement is not helpful at all. Some women already struggle with PPD (thankfully I didn’t) feeling guilt about how their labor and delivery ended up going only adds to that.

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SaraJM January 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm

This sounds very similar to the birth experience I had with my first. My son was posterior and I labored at home with my midwives for 36 hours, stuck at 3 cm and unable to hold down even a teaspoon of fluid without vomiting from the pain. I wish I had been praised for my decision to get the 5 hours of rest that epidural gave me (and the strength it gave me to push him out!). It would have saved me months of guilt and self-doubt afterward.

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Rachael January 29, 2012 at 1:40 am

Thank you for writing this. This is the exact attitude I think that everyone should have about options for moms giving birth. Yes, a lot of people could do it without – but for some people, it’s a good option or necessary, just like a lot of other things.

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liz noonan January 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I was dead-set against having an epidural and was able to deliver my children drug-free. That being said – the reason I didn’t want the epi? I WAS MORE afraid of the “big bad epidural” than I was about giving birth! The idea of having a Csection was so frightening. My first daughter was a 36 hour labor -looooong. I wish that they would come up with something better and safer for moms. I think if I had more options I would have loved to have a little relief from such a long labor. But I also did self-hypnosis and it really did help. And it would have been nice to feel more rested to take care of my new baby.

Never once have I felt “judgy” about a woman having an epidural-we all need to do what’s right for us! I just wish we had better, safer options for pain management in birth.

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Lara March 11, 2013 at 9:47 pm

I felt the same way! I don’t regret my L&D experience, but 36 hours of active labor was a hard road, and I think that part of what stalled me was the fear of “what if I need an epi / pain meds / a c-section?”. I was very caught up in trying to avoid any of that, and it did create some unnecessary anxiety.

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stephanie February 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

I was dead set on not having an epidural. I wanted to to it all natural, and starting out, it looked like i would be able to, but then the pain got so bad, i couldnt handle it. They had to give me oxygen to regulate my breathing and then they told me her heart rate was slowing. To me, i had to do it to calm myself down, so i would stop freaking her out. The crazy thing is, once i laid back down from getting the epi, i had to start pushing because i was fully dialated! a little longer and i could have done it all natural, but i didnt want to take that chance. next time will be different though :)

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Cassey February 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm

This is an amazing post. I was very young and very uneducated about birth when I had my first. I was induced at almost 42 weeks and he was just shy of 9lbs. I had went over 24hrs, and on maybe an hours sleep. I was exhausted and I had reached my breaking point. I had an epidural at 6cm and got about 4 hours of sleep. I woke up aid I had to push and in 7 pushes he was out.
With my younger 2 I had one in a 6 hour all natural labor and our youngest was also all natural, but he wasnt positioned correctly. I pulled through but it was exhausting and I was drained after wards. We had our time, then my fiance went and got our older 2 and after maybe 3 hours everyone had came to see us welcome him and went home. Then it was just us and our baby.
I was glad I went epi free with the last two, but I think I would have been very terrified if I hadnt gotten it the first time. I am a teen mom, so I feel it helped and as I grew and became more educated with our other children I am 100% satisfied with our decisions, even though I at one point in the younger ones labors, asked for an epidural but the boys decided thats not what they wanted because within 30mins of asking both times they were in my arms.

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Carrie February 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm

I had epidurals with all three births. Three different hospitals. All three epidurals did not work. No one can explain to me why epidurals do not work on me. They just numbed me about half way. I still felt excruciating pain.

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Melana April 25, 2013 at 1:30 am

Same thing with me. Dont work well. I could still move my legs and felt everything!

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Ali Tong July 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I hear ya. With my son I was in labor for 28 hours. He was just not COMING OUT! I was having all back labor and was unable to relax enough to dilate. My doctor gave me two options 1) Try epidural or 2) Have a C-section. I obviously chose #1, then I finally started to dilate and was able to birth him vaginally. I am glad that it worked for me, but I chose it as a last resort. I am just glad I got to avoid having major surgery!

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AllThingsMommy July 26, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Just like with c-sections, epirdurals are sometimes necessary, but the use is abused. They should only be provided out of medical necessity. (extreme fatigue from days of labor, etc)

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Lisa Black July 26, 2012 at 1:48 pm

As a midwife, when the call is made for a transport (non-emergency) I tell mom’s that an epidural may be the difference between a vaginal birth and a section. That is a fact! I don’t presume to tell anyone what they can and can’t do in their own birth, so I will openly and willingly drag in the anesthesiologist if that’s what the mom wants ;-)
As a mother of 4, I’ve given birth with 2 of them. My first was a 3 day, posterior, no progression past 3 cm, with pitocin … I opted for an epidural about 12 hours before she was born. I feel that is what kept me from having a section with my first birth. I was able to relax, sleep, have my body labor the baby down so I could have my baby, who was still posterior ;-)

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Tiffany Strong July 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Thank you so much for this post. I have always felt so guilty about having an epidural. I was 10 days overdue. My baby was HUGE, and I went into Labor on a Thursday afternoon, and he wasn’t born until Saturday night. After 32 hours of active labor with no interventions, I needed to relax, and get the baby out. At the 53 hour mark I gave birth to a 9 pound baby boy, with a huge head. Without the epidural I would have had a c-section, which I was very against. So again, thank you for your post.

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Patti Sawyer July 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Thank you for this post. I have been feeling guilty since my last birth! After four all natural births, I opted last minute for an epidural. I was an induction with slow to no progression. The pain of pitocin contractions was intense but after the epi, I was ready to push in 20 minutes! I know what one is like now too and can be more objective in talking to others about the experience.

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Tabbatha August 10, 2012 at 10:38 pm

I REALLY appreciate this post.

I read this website a lot because I’m so terrified of birth. I’m a FTM and even the strep B test swab hurt me. I’m 36 weeks pregnant and after that swab making me cry out, I can’t even imagine a cervix check… Much less full on labor!

I obviously don’t handle pain well. I know my body is capable of amazing things, but my mind right now is not in a place to let it. I LOVE reading natural birth stories, and looking at pictures of home birth, but I KNOW I want pain meds. I just do. I’m too scared, and have spent my entire pregnancy trying to get over it and I just can’t.

Sometimes I feel AWFUL for wanting pain meds because I’m so scared, and a lot of natural birth sites make you feel like absolute crap for wanting one… and it sucks.

I appreciate the middle ground in this post. It’s amazing. Thank you.

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Shannon January 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I was really trying to go epidural free with both of my babies but as it turns out…my body does not go into labor on its own and I don’t dialate properly without one. With my first I was induced and struggled(drug free) for 10 hours to get to 3cm. 4 hours after I got the epidural I was fully dialated and ready to go! This time around I was 4cm dialated for a week thinking I would go into labor at any minute. My water broke but I failed to go into labor for 24 hours resulting in another induction. This time my doc put me on the lowest dose of pitocin but had to shut it off after my body had a massive freakout resulting in a 10 minute long contraction (no pain meds) 5 hours later I had only progressed 1cm. I went with the epidural..and imagine my nurses shock when she checked me 45 minutes later and I was fully dialated and ready to push! Needless to say I tried to avoid the epidural for as long as I possibly could knowing all the risks to my myself and my babies but as it turns out avoiding the epidural has only done me more harm than good. Next time I will go for the epidural as soon as I can rather than put it off and deal with the pain and getting nowhere;)

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Eugene February 10, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Good article. To use an epidural or not is a personal choice. Either way doesn’t make you a bad mother. The most important thing is to understand what epidural is, how it works and what risks and benefits it carries. In short, the risks of labor epidural are very low. However the choice is personal and must be made with full understanding of the procedure. After all labor pain has no benefits.

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Andey March 8, 2013 at 8:27 pm

With my first, 32 hours into labor, and after hours of pitocin, my preeclampsia had sent my bp sky-high, so my midwife gave me the choice between the epidural or a c-section.

I cried, but in the end, it was the right choice for the situation. An epidural was a far better choice for me than a c-section.

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Bethany March 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I had an epidural only because I was at the hospital at 9:30 am and my son wasnt born until the next day at 1:02 am….after such a long day I needed to sleep. When it came time to push, I didn’t hit the button to release the medicine because I wanted to feel him come out.

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Johanna March 11, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I had always intended a natural birth and was especially opposed to induction and epidural. I ended up with a medically necessary induction due to Cholestasis. After contracting every 2 minutes on pit from 10am with a posterior baby I had only gotten to 4cm. I had almost reached the end of my endurance – especially given I had low energy from suffering from HG my whole pregnancy – and finally had an epidural at 1am. I truly believe that if I had not consented to an epidural that it would have ended in a c-section…i simply would not have had the energy to push, when the time came. I cried my eyes out the whole time they were putting it in but 3 hours later I was fully dilated and we had managed to make the baby turn and I was able to request they dial the epi back so that I could feel my contractions and push.

In my case it was Epidural or Csection and Epidural was the obvious choice for me.

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Amy March 11, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I had a very traumatic birth with my first. Long labor, hardly any dilation, ended in a very unpleasant c-section. I was offered very little choice in anything that went on (or so I felt).
With my VBAC baby, I had an extremely long labor. I was “stuck” at about 5cm and was in a lot of pain and tired. My body was fighting the contractions. So I got the epi and I’m so glad I did. I got some sleep and my body stopped fighting the contractions because I was able to relax. It would have been nice to do it without pain meds, and I think it could have made my pushing stage shorter if I didn’t… but I honestly don’t know how I could have gotten to the pushing stage to begin with without my epidural. I loved it.

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Amy March 11, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I forgot to add that one of the things that made me so happy with my epidural after my first birth experience was that it all ended up being my choice. And everything that happened during my second labor and delivery of my VBAC baby solidified my views that it’s so important for women to have a say about how they choose to birth. And mothers need to do what they need to do for themselves and their babies without judgment from others.

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Megan March 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I had a 33 hour labor and made it over halfway before getting an epidural. I spent the entire time I was at the hospital at 3 cm. They put me on pitocin because I wasnt dilating, then I asked for Stadol, which helped me sleep through most of the night. As they continued to up the pitocin, the pain became too much for the Stadol to cover and I needed the epidural. I did dilate to 4 cm with the Stadol. I got the epidural and within a few hours I had dilated to 7, and next thing I knew (I slept when I could after the epidural) I felt pressure and was pushing and had him out within 20 minutes. The epidural helped me relax when I couldn’t. I spent the whole first half of my labor walking and bouncing on the birthing ball. I did everything I could to relax and move myself along. It just wasn’t happening. I was in the “epidurals are bad” camp before labor. Now I’m in the “epidurals are ok” camp. If you need one, it can be really helpful. If you can make it through labor without one, you should. I still am seeking a completely medication/intervention free birth. We’ll see what happens next time for me.

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Julia March 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I think that many natural birthing proponents actually do a disservice to the cause by being negative about epidurals during labor. I was fortunate enough to be able to follow through with my plan for a natural, unmedicated birth that I was hoping for from the get-go – it is my belief that since women have been birthing this way for many generations, I can do it too. Many women don’t believe in this for themselves, so why shouldn’t they use what is available to them? The end result of labor and delivery is always healthy baby AND healthy mom, we should be supporting each other on how we get there, even if it isn’t the same way we would have chosen to get there for ourselves. I realize how many things can go wrong with having an epidural but delivering a baby is hard enough – the last thing a laboring mother needs to worry about is how she is viewed for having a baby the way she does.

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Sonja March 11, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Thank you so much for posting this! I was in labor for 2 days with my little one, during which time I did not sleep or eat. If I had not gotten an epidural so I could sleep for just 2 hours, they would have taken my baby by C-section. I didn’t like it, and I don’t want to have to do it again, but it does have its place.

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K March 11, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Thank you for sharing this…

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Jessi VanDyke March 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I just had my precious little angle baby, Ava Rei, on 3/13/13. I had a home birth plan. I labored for 24 hours at home and was stuck at 5cm dilation for 8 1/2 hours with constant pushing urges that are nearly impossible to stop or just pant/breathe through. Because of this my cervix got swollen and could not progress. I was then transferred to the hospital, where the CNM there spoke with me about the risks, and also the major benefit that Epidural would be for me at that time. If I would have not had the Epidural I would have continued to try not to push, but with no success, and I would have had to have a C-Section. After having the Epidural in for about 2-3 hours, my cervix was still not dilating so they spoke with me about Pitosin, and at that point I broke down and had a good cry, because none of this is what I wanted for my dear daughter or myself. However, the combination of the two helped get my baby into the world safely and vaginally, which ultimately was the most important thing.

I believe that if the body and baby are cooperating, you can certainly go without the Epidural and other interventions, which is exactly what I wanted to do. You just have to keep in mind that things don’t always go as planned, and we are lucky that there are things like these drugs to help when they are needed.

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Melana April 25, 2013 at 1:28 am

When I first found out I was pregnant, I was all for a natural birth plan. I thought in my mind that if my mom could do it then I totally could do it. But the difference between my mom and I is that she can handle pain way better than I could. I have many tattoos but they didn’t hurt nearly as bad as my birthing experience. When I went into labor, I had the worse back pain in the world. I couldn’t believe it. So that day I decided I wanted an Epidural. I was so afraid but the pain was just too much for me. Im just not one to handle it well. And I made the mistake and didn’t take any birthing classes because I just thought I could do it without. Well I got the Epidural and it took the contraction pain away but when I actually gave birth it was the worse pressure and pain I have ever felt. My daughter was face up and slightly looking to the right so I could definitely feel everything. I pushed for 5 hrs and she finally came out. I think that if I didn’t have the Epidural I probably would have passed out from the pain. I could still move my legs so it must have not been that strong of an epidural. But if and when we do have another child, I do want to try for a natural birth. I have always thought it would be a great idea to have a home water birth.

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Sarah May 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Thank you for posting this. I had planned on a fully natural childbirth, and when I was diagnosed at 34 weeks with preeclampsia, I was devastated. Everything that I had planned on went out the window. I was induced at what they thought was 37 weeks (which they figured out later was only 36) and had to have an epidural to keep my blood pressure down. I felt like a failure because I had an epidural and all I could think about was everything I read about how “evil” epidurals are. In some cases, they are medically necessary, and result in a better outcome for mom and baby.

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Bee September 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

THANK YOU for this. I had an epidural and have no regrets or shame about it. Once I got it, my body was able to relax and dilated from 5 cm to 10 cm in about 2 hours. I then gave birth to my 9 lb, 5 oz sunnyside-up baby after 3.5 hours of pushing. My OB was wonderful and encouraging and I’m so proud of what I did that day.

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Amy Pogrebin Bremenstuhl September 8, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I had my first one drug free and under 4 hours. It was a piece of cake.
People always say that the second labor is faster and quicker.
Well, faster, not so much. Quicker~ there was no warning when the second part of labor started. I completely skipped the first part and went to intense, painful, painful, painful contractions. I tried so hard to keep it drug free~ the bathtub didn’t help, my husband’s gentle and encouraging words didn’t help~ nothing did. About halfway through, I asked myself what I was trying to prove~ and went ahead and got the epidural. Ahhhh, the best man-made thing ever! I was completely at ease, and pushed the baby out with ease not too long after. The whole birthing process was 6 hours. My baby came out as alert as can be~ sucked with no problems! So, I’ve had it both ways and am happy with both birthings!

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Dorie September 8, 2013 at 3:49 pm

From the moment my husband and I began planning to have a baby, I knew I wanted to give birth naturally. I work in pharmaceuticals so I was loudly and openly mocked for this by my coworkers but I knew it was what was best for my baby.

On October 15th, my contractions started. Every five minutes. You could set a clock by them. But no baby came. On October 17th, I went to work. Still having contractions every five minutes but they never got any closer together and my water had not broken. On October 18th, I worked from home because I got stuck trying to get behind the steering wheel of my car and a neighbor had to free me. My contractions were still five minutes apart and I worked on my laptop while using my birth ball. Finally on October 19th, my water broke at 3am. I was so excited and my contractions increased almost immediately to two and a half minutes apart. After 16 hours of those contractions and a complete inability to rest due to back labor, I started thinking about an epi. When the midwife pulled my husband aside to talk about options to keep me out of the OR, I realized that if I asked for the epidural it might give me a better chance of having a say in what happened to me. I then tried to get up and walk for a while to see if that could help and I could barely take three steps without collapsing. I started to feel bitter and resentful towards my son, my husband and God and that was when I realized that I needed the epidural.

They had to re-do the line at one point because it slipped out but it gave me the chance to be emotionally present at my son’s birth. I was able to be joyful about our labor together. It gave my husband and my best friend (who was there for support) the ability to take turns napping until 9:30 on October 20th when I finally started pushing. After an hour of pushing (which felt so flipping fantastic that I don’t even have words for it), my son was born.

I don’t regret my decision to have an epidural. I think I got it for good reasons. I didn’t feel like I was afraid of pain or because it was pushed on me. I got it because I had clear goals in mind. My bestie made me work through my reasons with her before I said anything to the nurse and that really helped me to be happy with my decision.

When we have baby number two, I still want a natural birth but I don’t think I’ll be as fearful of the epidural. I know I can make it through 16 hours of intense labor with absolutely no interventions. 32 hours was just a little much.

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carly September 8, 2013 at 4:21 pm

My epidural was needed – I would have liked more support however at the time the circumstances were this. I had been going harcore active labour for 23 hours – uncoached, first babe tensing and just getting through every contraction, I stayed at home till about 20 hours. I when to hospital again midwives sat back and thought that I was coping really well so didnt intervene. By the time the contractions had started coming on top of each other (almost at transition) I was exausted – I had’nt rested or eaten anything I was tired out of resources but most of all completely out of all mental strength. I had the epi rested, felt my baby move down till I could feel herright there while I rested – without that rest im not sure if I would have been able to push her out – the down side – I could not feel her crown I tore very badly but I got her out.

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Jessica B. September 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I went into my pregnancy thinking that I was going to at least try to not do the epidural. Unfortunately, I was in a car accident at 39 and half weeks and it was decided my mutual decision between my OB and myself that I be induced. They started a cervical dilation medication and my contractions were getting stronger. The cervadil tampon fell out after only a few hours and since my contractions were steady and regular we opted not to have another put in. Fast forward to the next morning and my contractions had stopped and I was started on pit. I did very well without any pain medication until that evening. I was in alot of pain and despite me trying everything I could to relax I was unable to. I finally decided that it was time for me to get my epidural as I had been stalled at 4cm dilation for 3+ hours. Once my epidural was in and going I was able to relax and finish dilating to 10. During my pregnancy I read a ton of articles on the pros and cons of epidurals and knew that ultimately I would do what I felt was best for me and my baby boy.

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Amy Gordon September 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm

You missed a really important one. What if that’s what mom really wants and is most comfortable with? I, for one, don’t have a super high pain tolerance. And I have very painful contractions. And I have had no problems with laboring while using an epidural. When I was pushing, I needed MORE epidural. Epidurals work for me, and I don’t need to use an excuse validated by ANYONE else to use one, okay?

And as far as “It would be best to help ensure mom gets adequate rest when she can during labor to prevent exhaustion from occurring” – for some women that means having an epidural. Period. Can you PLEASE add to your list, “It’s what you want!” Because knowing yourself when it comes to your birth is MOST important!

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Carrie September 8, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Another reason to add to the “sometimes epidurals can be a kindness” list are for mothers who are victims of sexual abuse. Sometimes the birthing process can be a trigger for these mamas and an epidural can numb those sensations that might remind them of their trauma which would otherwise have possibly created a very negative experience and attachment to their child.

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