Getting An Epidural Does Not Make You A Wimp (And Other Common Labor/Delivery Myths)

by Meredith Ethington
nata-lunata / Shutterstock

Personally, I’ve always been a pro-epidural sort of gal. From the moment I got pregnant with my first and started learning about them, I thought to myself, No pain in childbirth? Yes, please. I want that.

Fast-forward to my first big day, and I found myself delivering all-natural in a tiny hospital with only one anesthesiologist on staff. He was in a C-section, which trumped my vaginal birth. No epidural for me.

The next time around, there was no question I still wanted one. But I’ll admit, I was terrified of that needle — and getting paralyzed. Turns out my fears aren’t that uncommon.

I told the doctor when he came in to give it to me that I didn’t want to even see the needle. He walked me through the whole experience, explaining just enough along the way so I didn’t freak out, but also not giving me all the nitty-gritty details. The worst part was just trying to hold still while having a contraction, which is kind of impossible.

Once that sweet epidural juice kicked in, I applied some makeup. Yes, you heard that right. I wanted to look good for my pictures, and suddenly, I felt great — happy, and ready to have a baby. I slept through my body progressing through labor, and they woke me up when it was time to push. It was 100% a great experience for me compared to my first.

But for many women, deciding to get an epidural is a big decision, and one that can be downright terrifying to consider. After all, no one wants a giant needle inserted in the part of the body that controls their nerves, and women worry about all kinds of risks to themselves and their baby

I’m not here to knock natural births. In fact, I applaud women who do that because I’ve done it too, and it wasn’t easy. But I’m here to let you know that it’s okay if you want to change your plan. And the risks aren’t as high as you might think. I’m just here to let you know that having an epidural during childbirth can be a wonderful experience.

But since there are some common misconceptions, it’s important to know what it’s really like.

Myth 1: It makes you a wimp.

Everyone has a different level of tolerance for pain, and honestly, ever childbirth is different. I was able to work through my contractions with my second birth way easier than my first. If you can’t handle the pain, getting an epidural does not mean you are weak. It means you are smart and know your pain threshold and are taking care of yourself. Don’t get too hung up on this part. Having a baby makes you badass no matter how that baby gets here.

Myth 2: An epidural could cause paralysis.

According to Oxford University Press, one of the largest studies ever done about the risks of epidurals published in British Journal of Anesthesia concludes, “the estimated risk of permanent harm following a spinal anesthetic or epidural is lower than 1 in 20,000 and in many circumstances the estimated risk is considerably lower.” Being paralyzed is extremely rare, and most epidurals pose very low risk to the mother. And no, you aren’t going to paralyze yourself if you move a tiny bit during the procedure either.

Myth 3: You won’t be able to push effectively.

For both of my childbirth experiences where I had epidurals, my boys were pushed out within just a few minutes. I had no issues not being able to feel enough to control my pushing. In fact, I surprised the doctor with my third because I had my baby out with the first big push. Yes, your legs will feel heavy, and everyone experiences the epidural differently, but you will still have some feeling left in your lower body despite the epidural. It is possible that your pushing might be prolonged some, but not enough to warrant not getting an epidural if that is your wish. With my last baby, I got up and walked around (with help) shortly after having him too.

Myth 4: The baby will be harmed.

There just isn’t that much evidence that exists to support this, but the research is ambiguous too. As with most of these things, try to do your homework beforehand, so you can make a decision that feels right. But you just might find that your baby is not as at risk as you were led to believe.

Myth 5: There is only a small window of time to get the epidural.

There is more than one kind of epidural out there, so don’t give up hope that if you’re further along in your labor that you are out of luck. Discuss these scenarios with your doctor before labor and have a plan. You can actually get an epidural any time during labor, but since it does take 15 minutes or so to kick in, if you’re far enough advanced, it might be pointless. Just don’t be afraid to ask for one simply because you might think it’s too late.

The truth is, I’m not here to talk you into an epidural or scare you out of getting one. Women need to feel empowered by their own ability to choose, and the only way to do that is to know the facts. Spend time with your doctor and research on your own all there is to know about epidurals (because there is a lot to cover). Just know that it’s totally normal to be freaked out about pushing something the size of a grapefruit out of your nether regions, and it’s definitely okay if you make the choice not to feel that.