Good News: We Can Chill Out About Getting An Epidural

by Christine Organ
Image via Elena Vdovina/ Getty Images

A new study shows that an epidural doesn’t prolong labor

Motherhood and guilt go hand and hand. As soon as you announce that you’re “with child,” the opinions come out in full force. The list of do’s and don’ts is about a mile long, and every decision is up for debate – along with a hefty dose of side-eye and judgment if we make the “wrong” decision. Well, fear not, moms and moms-to-be, there’s one less thing we have to fret and feel guilty about – epidurals.

Widely used since the 1970s, epidurals are considered the most effective method of labor pain relief. And by “effective pain relief,” we mean you will actually be able to converse with your spouse and nursing staff without wanting to literally bite their heads off. Epidurals are that good.

Despite their magic powers efficacy, some obstetricians and pregnant women are hesitant to use them out of fear that the medication might slow the second stage of labor – which begins when the cervix is dilated and ends with delivery. But new research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that this isn’t the case.

Specifically, the double-blind randomized study of 400 healthy, first-time mothers compared the effects of a low-concentration epidural anesthetic to a saline placebo. Researchers found that epidural medication had no effect on the duration of the second stage of labor, vaginal delivery rate, episiotomy, position of the fetus, or any other measure of fetal well-being the researchers investigated. In other words, the side-eye and judgment can end now; there’s no reason to avoid an epidural out of fear of a prolonged labor or risks to the baby.

“This study shows that epidural medication does not cause a delay in the delivery of a baby,” said Philip E. Hess, MD, director of obstetric anesthesia at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Labor lasted about 52 minutes for the women given an epidural compared with 51 minutes for women given the saline solution. That’s just one extra minute – a small price to pay, especially if it’s an extra minute of relatively pain-free labor.

“Not even the pain scores were statistically different between groups,” said Hess. “However, pain scores in women receiving the saline placebo increased over time, as would be expected.”

The decision to get (or not get) an epidural is highly personal and one that most women don’t take lightly. Personally, I was thrilled about getting an epidural, especially since it helped me stop shouting eff bombs at my husband long enough to have a conversation and, dare I say, enjoy the childbirth experience together.

Whether a woman wants an epidural or a water birth, gets a C-section in a hospital or delivers at home, I think we can all agree that childbirth and motherhood are hard AF. Let’s put the guilt about epidurals to rest with this research. Because when it comes to pregnancy and motherhood, there’s more than enough to feel guilty or shamed about anyway.

h/t Parents