Labour is among one of the most painful human experiences. Just as every baby is unique, every labour is also very different. No matter how well planned you would like your baby’s birth to be, many babies forget to follow that plan and will instead do things their own way. Some women will experience a short labour and fast birth whilst others may have a long intense labour with a prolonged birth requiring intervention. For this reason, it’s important that you keep an open mind with regards to the various choices of pain relief that are available to you.
Take time to learn about the different analgesia options and speak to your obstetrician so that you are informed and prepared for whatever eventuates.
Epidurals are an extremely effective form of pain relief available during labour. In Australia, all regional anaesthesia such as epidurals and spinals, are inserted by Specialist Anaesthetists and are used in almost one third of labouring women. Epidurals are especially useful when pain has not been adequately relieved by other methods such as TENS, Entonox (gas) and Pethidine. Other situations when an epidural may be useful:
The pain relieving medication given via the epidural comes in several different strengths. Most women will be started on a lower strength medication. This medication will generally stop the pain of labour whilst still allowing the patient the sensation of touch and muscle strength.
However, just as all women are different, some may need to have a stronger medication to control the pain of contractions and labour. A stronger medication may do this effectively yet result in weakness of the legs, numbness and pins and needles.
Your Anaesthetist will assess your needs and prescribe the medication that is appropriate to your individual needs and circumstances.
Once your Anaesthetist has the epidural up and running it will be necessary, in most cases, to give a repeat dose of the pain relieving medication every 1-2 hours. This will be done in consultation with your midwife and Obstetrician and is dependent on the progress of your labour.
If you've had an epidural inserted for labour and it has been providing you with good pain relief from contractions, then it is likely that this can be topped-up with different anaesthetic and pain relieving drugs, in order to provide anaesthesia for a caesarean section. Before an epidural for labour is used for a caesarean section, your Anaesthetist will thoroughly assess that you have a successful block. At times, it may be necessary for some patients to have an injection known as a spinal anaesthetic in addition to the epidural infusion. This will also be thoroughly assessed by your Anaesthetist to ensure that you are painfree prior to surgery.
It is important to remember that epidurals in labour and childbirth are very safe. However, as with any other medical procedure, epidurals have potential complications and side effects. For additional information on the rates of side effects from epidurals please click here. You should consider these side effects as well as the benefits of epidural analgesia. Please discuss any concerns or questions with your Anaesthetist prior to inserting the epidural.
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