We know that epidurals can lengthen the amount of time women spend in labor, especially during the second stage—also known as the pushing stage. (It’s hard to push effectively when you can’t feel contractions.) We also know that lengthy labors and ineffective pushing are leading contributors to C-sections, but how long is too long? And should women forego epidurals if they want to avoid C-sections?
Many of you have seen the YouTube video of Dutch guys “in labor.” Now there’s another one circulating about American men “in labor.” Each of the guys is hooked up to an electrical stimulation machine with electrodes attached to their abdominal muscles. When enough electricity is delivered to give the guys “contractions,” viewers watch as they freak out and lose their minds over what they’d previously perceived was probably tolerable pain that women had exaggerated.
Now that I’ve spent two weeks spouting tips for a natural birth, let’s give epidurals some equal play. Around 61 percent of you will get an epidural at some point in your labor, so let’s answer a few nitty-gritty questions. But first, let’s start with some common complaints women have about their epidural experiences:
Lots of women commit during pregnancy to get through labor without drugs or an epidural. They come into labor and delivery with plans and promises, skills and techniques to see them through, feeling certain they can achieve their goal of a 100 percent natural birth because they’re prepared, they’re tough and, c’mon, seriously, how bad can it be?
Beth’s sister is pregnant with twins and wants a vaginal birth. Beth says, “It seems like an uphill battle” because she has to labor in an operating room and have an epidural right from the start of labor. Beth wants to know if delivering twins is riskier than delivering a single baby, if twins are more fragile and if all this OR the epidural business is really necessary.
How important is prenatal education for getting good quality patient care? An article published in The Los Angeles Times about a study conducted by The Child & Family Research Institute and University of British Columbia says fewer than 30 percent of first time mothers are attending prenatal childbirth education classes. Instead most women either did their research online, through books or didn’t do any research at all.
When Valerie Rowekamp’s labor started, it felt like an annoying case of menstrual cramps. During the hours that followed, the cramping became “downright uncomfortable, but not necessarily painful.” In fact, she gave birth without any pain medication. “I was surprised that it never really felt beyond my tolerance level, which is very low,” she said in her message on Fit Pregnancy’s Facebook page.
While your birth experience will be as unique to you as your new baby, the phases of labor and delivery are the same for everyone. During pregnancy the opening of your uterus, the cervix, is firm and closed. As your due date approaches, you may experience mild contractions that help prepare your cervix for delivery: It becomes soft, stretchy and thin, a process called effacement.
Kim commented on a recent blog, “It was only during my pre-admittance paperwork appointment that I found out an epidural means a catheter is left in your spinal column/spinal membrane for the whole delivery.” The idea of a foreign object being attached to Kim’s spinal column “scares the bejeezus” out of her. Kim, countless women share your sentiment.
On March 8, I’ll be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day at the National CARE Conference in DC. Privately, I’ve been celebrating the power of women to make a difference in the world, right here at home. I know many readers are experiencing the same gentle power as they move through their pregnancies. The women in their lives are quietly supporting them from thin to thick, sickness and health, through labor and birth and on into mother
It’s reader-question day. Patricia is six months pregnant with her first baby and has three great ones that a lot of women ask:
Does an epidural slow down labor? Does epidural medication reach the baby? I have a hunch I’m going to delivery early. Why doesn’t my doctor agree?