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Epidural side effects: What are the side effects?

by the editorial team Published on 20 May 2011

Researching all your options before you give birth is essential to make you feel in control.

Epidural side effects: What are the side effects?

Although initially you may not want to have an epidural, and would prefer to experience the birth as naturally as possible, the chances are that you will be offered it at some point during your labour.

Epidurals offer very powerful and effective pain relief and can help you to calm down if your labour pains are causing you too much stress.

Formerly known as epidural anaesthesia, an epidural involves administering pain relief by injecting anaesthesia in between the vertebrae in your lower spine.

However, this spinal injection has long been debated and there are pros and cons of having an epidural. Some women prefer to feel what is going on during their delivery, and whilst the epidural usually blocks all pain, sometimes it can block all sensation too as the tranmission of signals through the nerves in your spinal cord are inhibited.

Having an epidural poses a risk to you and your baby, but equally it can be a positive contribution to your birth.

Every woman's experience is different, and you will need to make the right choice for you and your labour.

What are the potential side effects of having an epidural?

There are a variety of possible side effects and risks with an epidural, and some are more common than others. The more serious side effects are usually rare, but it helps to know what could happen:

Common health side effects:

  • It can lower your blood pressure: You must have sufficient blood pressure to oxygenate your blood supply and therefore your baby.
  • It can lead to urinary retention: If your bladder becomes too full during labour it can inhibit your cervix from dialating fully. A urinary catheter will therefore be placed at the same that you have the epidural.
  • Inability to move freely: Because of the loss of sensation an epidural makes it very difficult to move about and use your legs until the anaesthetic has worn off.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Often women feel nauseous after an epidural but usually it passes quickly.
  • Itchy skin: The medication used for epidurals can make you become itchy.

Rare health side effects:

  • Spinal headache: Sometimes the spinal cord leaks fluid which can cause a severe headache that can last a week or sometimes longer.
  • Infections: The site of the epidural injection can sometimes become infected.
  • Paralysis: Very rarely you can come paralysed and have a complete loss of sensation and the inability to move.
  • Numbness: Following the epidural anaesthesia some women experience patches of numbness that can last for 12 weeks.

Having an epidural will change your experience of labour. Different women have had positive and negative experiences of an epidural birth. Whilst the pain relief is immense, it doesn't come without risk:

Labour side effects:

  • You may feel disconnected from the birth: Not being able to feel when you need to push may make the mother feel disconnected and out of control.
  • There is an increased risk of an assisted birth: Having an epidural makes you more likely to have to have assistance from a suction cap or forceps.
  • Labour can last for longer: Because you will no longer be able to feel your contractions the labour can last for longer. Your midwife will be able to tell you when to push.

If you still can't make a decision about epidurals, read these arguments for and against epidurals, where women have shared their epidural birth experiences with SoFeminine.co.uk.

You can also discuss any concerns in our forums with other mothers and mums to be.

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