Epidurals are not instantaneous. They’re far more complicated than getting a shot in the butt. From the moment you ask for one to the moment you get relief, you might have to wait anywhere from a half-hour to an hour or far longer. The pre-epidural preparations include lab work, getting an IV, having at least a full liter of fluid infused, a consultation with the anesthetist, getting up to pee, signing paperwork and more.
When all that is done, you can get your epidural—but what if the anesthetist is busy putting in another woman’s epidural? What if he’s needed in the operating room and the stand-by anesthetist has to come to the hospital from home? What if you’re only a little bit dilated and in minor pain and another mother is speeding through labor and in serious pain? She goes first, even if you put in your request before she did. While every effort will be made to ensure you get your epidural ASAP, don’t expect it to be an instant deal. It takes time, and this is one area where you don’t want your doc to take shortcuts.
Epidurals are sometimes called a “blind procedure,” meaning once that needle goes past the skin, the anesthetist can’t see exactly where it’s going. A lot of what he does is done by feel and experience. Every woman’s anatomy is unique, and he can’t guarantee the results will be identical even though he might put the epidural in with exactly the same technique on every woman.
That’s why some women have “windows” of pain where the epidural doesn’t work or why some women may need two or three attempts to get the relief they need. In addition, no two women respond to medication exactly the same way. Some women will be completely numb with a small dose of medication while another might still be able to move around and feel stuff. Your anatomy and ability to metabolize and utilize medications are your own unique thing.
Finally, about those needles—your nurse is right—you can’t have an epidural without an IV. No way around that. It’s how we make sure your blood pressure doesn’t plummet. Low blood pressure is a common side effect of epidurals—really low—like low enough to affect your baby. We know that’s a factor, so we load you up with IV fluids in advance. If you still bottom out, we give you drugs to bring your blood pressure back up. All of that happens through the IV. No IV, no epidural—no matter what your birth plan says.
And about the size of the epidural needle? Yep, it’s a biggie. That’s the size they need to be. Sorry about that.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and children. And co-author of, The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Best Birthing Plan for a Safe, Less Painful, and Successful Delivery for You and Your Baby. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.