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Epidurals: Pros vs Cons

February 7, 2010


I have been studying the side effects of epidurals and have always wondered if they were harmful for the mother or baby.  Well, after some research, I have been rather surprised by my findings… the list side effects of epidurals is rather long and potentially frightening. Having some sort of complications with your epidural is very common.

I think I have come to the conclusion that if an epidural is used during labor, you essentially trade the pain or discomfort of labor for alot more potential pain and discomfort for hours, days, weeks or even years to come.  Come to find out, some women never get any pain relief from their epidural during labor and then have terrible side effects from their epidural that didn’t work!

Here is a nice article from  Learning the essentials of epidural anesthesia

“If the epidural needle or catheter enters the subarachnoid space….can cause high spinal anesthesia, increasing the loss of function in the respiratory muscles. The patient will have trouble breathing, leading to apnea, increasing numbness, or paralysis. This is an emergency. Immediately calm and reassure the patient. Call the emergency response team and the anesthesia provider. Have emergency airway equipment, emergency medications, and suction at hand to maintain the patient’s airway and cardiovascular status. Follow basic life support guidelines to protect and support the patient’s airway, breathing, and circulation.

What Can Epidurals Can Do For You:

Epidurals can be the first step to other complications and interventions:

  • Restricted mobility, IV, and EFM (all epidural patients)
  • Increased likelihood of needing a catheter, oxytocin, AND/OR internal monitoring
  • Increased likelihood of having a forceps, episiotomy AND/OR cesarean (c-section) delivery

Short Term Effects On Mother Who Have An Epidural:

  • Dural puncture
  • Hypotension (29%) (Low Blood Pressure) – MAJOR risk to baby and baby’s brain because of lack of blood flow to the placenta and baby.
  • Nausea, vomiting, shivering (frequent)
  • Uneven, incomplete OR non-existent pain relief
  • Respiratory insufficiency or paralysis – (no breath!)
  • Convulsions
  • Slight to severe headaches
  • Septic meningitis
  • Cardiac arrest – heart attack (serious!)
  • Maternal death

Long Term Side Effects Of The Epidural On The Mother:

  • Neurological complications
  • Backache (weeks to YEARS!) in 20% of women!
  • Postpartum feelings of regret, loss of autonomy (click for definition)
  • Fecal and urinary incontinence (inability to urinate)
  • Loss of perineum sensation and sexual function

Epidural Side Effects On The Baby:

  • Direct drug toxicity to baby
  • Fetal distress, abnormal FHR – fetal heart rate (can lead to emergency cesarean)
  • Drowsiness at birth, poor sucking reflex
  • Maternal fever (inability to regulate body temperature from numb skin) leads to fetal hyperthermia and neonatal
    NICU workup (spinal tap, etc.)
  • Neonatal jaundice
  • Decreased maternal-infant bonding, behavioral problems
  • Hyperactivity up to seven years (suspected)

And this is an incomplete list…  Who would sign a consent if it included all the info above?  The degree to which the facts about the risks of epidural anesthesia are hidden from women in labor is astonishing.

I hope that pregnant women will have a more informed explanation of the risks of epidural anesthesia than what is currently given, and I would suspect that many would make other choices if true informed consent was given (before labor, when the woman still has time to prepare to cope with the discomfort or pain of  childbirth in other ways).

For more info on the pros and cons of epidurals, check out the following websites:

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2011 10:25 pm

    Hello! Just wanted to add something to your excellent post because most people who opt for epidurals don’t know how incredibly debilitating epidural headaches can be. I had an epidural headache for three months before it was fixed with a blood patch. If anyone is contemplating an epidural, please read Epidurals can be very useful and sometimes necessary, but if I can save just one woman going through what I did when it can be so easily fixed then it’s worth it to me!

  2. Erika permalink
    December 9, 2010 2:08 am

    Hi, there! I’m so glad I stumbled onto your website! I had an epidural with my now 8-year old son (my 1st child), and there were so many complications, it was crazy in the hospital room. I couldn’t feel to push, and he was so drugged out (even before he was born) that he couldn’t turn around, and was born posterior. He had to be suctioned out for over an HOUR as the doctor’s whole body was shaking from trying to get him out so hard. It really was sad, and the ICU team was up in the room before he was out so that they could work on him right away. After he was born, he was completely lethargic, and he did not wake up for over 20 hrs. the day we brought him home. Then he screamed for 10 hours a day for over a week, until we took him to our very gentle chiropractor who completely solved the crying in one visit (he had warned us that we’d probably need to bring him in because of the birth). We praise the Lord that he didn’t suffer severe brain damage, and is a healthy, sweet child! He is very hyperactive, however (I hadn’t ever heard of that side effect before, but had my suspicions).

    When I became pregnant with our second child, I went onto for fun, to look up pregnancy stuff, and came across the Pros/Cons list of having an epidural. Within 10 minutes, I was so boiling mad at our past experience with a hospital birth and what they tell you/don’t tell you about what can happen to you and your child! Their list of cons is even longer than here- I was completely shocked that they would even post it. I had almost every con, except for the headache, severe brain damage, a C-section (which I maybe should’ve had considering the circumstances), and death.

    Right away, I started looking into natural birth, and stumbled upon midwifery. We found a wonderful, Christian midwife in town, and was blessed to be able to take Bradley classes with someone who changed our lives in such a dramatic way. We had our next daughter at our midwife’s home, and our next daughter in our own home, stress-free, and complication-free! I am so passionate about correcting the misinformation out there about homebirth, and would love to become a midwife myself someday.

    Are there any schools/routes you would recommend to become a midwife? I have looked into, which seems to be exceptional. It is a long-distance school started and run by Carla Hartley, a Christian, and in her younger days, a homeschooling mom. Do you have any other recommendations or ideas on this subject? I am a homeschooling mom who will be homeschooling my children for what seems will be a gazillion years, so I will set midwifery on the back burner for now, but I’m always curious. Thanks for your time and God bless!

    • theCmom permalink
      December 9, 2010 11:22 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story. When the season of your life comes where you can focus on midwifery, I’m sure the choices/options of schools will be different than now they are now. Seems like schooling is always changing. During this season of life, you may find that you have time to be a child birth educator or a part-time doula? There are other options to spread the word about ‘trusting birth’ vs treating it like a disease 🙂 Did you read this post on GBS. Group B Strep is one of latest ways the doctors are liking to interrupt natural birth…

  3. Liz (just researching my options permalink
    December 8, 2010 8:46 pm

    also on my list of ABSOLUTELY No Thank YOU!!


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