Regional anesthetics, which include epidurals and spinal blocks are one of the most commonly utilized pain relief methods available to laboring women. In America, 80-90% of women who labor in hospitals utilize regional anesthetics, such as the epidural, in labor. It is important for women to educate themselves about their options in pain relief, including epidurals, prior to labor to help ensure they are able to make educated and informed decisions that are best for themselves, their situation and their baby.
What are regional anesthetics?
Regional anesthetics, such as epidurals and spinal blocks are the most commonly used pain relief measure for women laboring in hospitals. Regional anesthetics involves the placement of a catheter into the spine
The use of regional anesthetics are entirely dependant on the availability of hospital staff, such as anesthesiologists and nurse-anesthesiologists, who are qualified to place them. Many hospitals have anesthesiologists available at all times, making it much more likely that a laboring woman who requests regional anesthetics will be able to receive them. However, she may be forced to wait, or it may even become too late, should the anesthesiologists be busy or backed up with patients.
Regional anesthetics are the most effective forms of anesthesia for childbirth, providing to woman with near-total, or total pain relief, while allowing her to remain awake, alert and aware for the birth of her baby.
Regional anesthetics may help the mother to relax, allowing her to sleep and conserve energy for when it’s time to push. The pain-relieving affects of regional anesthetics may also help calm the mother, allowing her labor to progress more than if she were anxious and scared.
Regional anesthetics may increase blood flow to the uterus.
It is possible for regional anesthetics to be controlled, and turned down, as the woman gets closer to delivering her baby, making it easier for her to push, however, figuring out exactly how much to turn the medications down may be difficult and is not an exact science.
If the medication used in the regional causes numbness or loss of feeling in the legs, the woman may be forced to remain lying in bed. This can have an adverse affect in labor, as standing, kneeling, squatting and other movements in labor help promote healthy labor progression.
Regional anesthetics can be difficult to place and the anesthesiologist may have to try placement multiple times. Sometimes they cannot be placed, leaving the mother with puncture wounds in her back that may become uncomfortable or become infected later on.
Many women who use regional anesthetics in labor do not feel the urge to bear down when it comes time to push, or have a difficult time controlling the muscles to do so.
Regional anesthetics, depending on the type, may take up to twenty minutes to take effect, and if administered too late in labor, may not provide any benefit.
When using regional anesthetics, a woman must have an IV, and fetal monitors. She must also have blood work sent to the lab to check various health factors before she will be deemed a good candidate for regional anesthetic.
Regional anesthetics can be expensive, and some insurances do not cover them or only cover them partially. If the woman is paying out of pocket this can be an even bigger financial burden.
Regional anesthetics may slow down, stall or even completely stop labor. This can be especially dangerous if the baby is showing signs of distress or the mother’s bag of waters have been ruptured for an extended period of time.
Johnson, Robert V. Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year. New York: W. Morrow and, 1994. Print.
“Discovery Health “Anesthesia for Childbirth”” Discovery Health “Health Guides” Web. 20 Sept. 2010.
“Anesthetics: Options for Childbirth — Labor and Delivery — WhatToExpect.com.” What To Expect When You’re Expecting, Pregnancy, Baby, Babies, Toddler, Parenting – WhatToExpect.com. Web. 20 Sept. 2010.