Should I Get an Epidural?

8 questions about getting an epidural during labor, answered.

Should I Get an Epidural?

Are you pregnant and considering an epidural for pain relief during childbirth? You are not alone. More than 60 percent of women giving birth at hospitals opt for the procedure. To help you make sense of the procedure and figure out if it’s is the right pain-management method for you, we wanted to tell you how epidurals really work and give you some tips!

Here are 8 questions about epidurals, answered:

1. When do I ask for an epidural? You can ask for an epidural at any point in your labor. If you can, it’s better to wait until you’re in active labor since getting one in early labor can increase your chances of a cesarian section. An epidural can take time (from 15 minutes to two hours) to be administered depending on the availability of the anesthesiologist. So keep that in mind, and if the contractions are getting more painful while you wait, plan to cope with any discomfort using breathing, massage and relaxation techniques. Pro Tip: Ask what the wait time is when you get to the hospital so you can plan in advance.

2. How is an epidural placed? You’ll be asked to sit on the edge of the bed, leaning against a nurse or a partner, and be still. After a local anesthetic is administered, a catheter delivering the medication is placed in your lower spine. You’ll start to feel the effects of the medication 15 minutes or so later. After it’s turned off, the numbing effects wear off in an hour or two.

3. Can I move after getting an epidural? You can move, but your lower half will be numb to a degree, so you’ll be required to stay in bed, even with lower dosage ‘walking’ epidurals. Being in a supine position for an extended period of time can lead to baby presenting ‘sunny side up’ (which in turn could lead to a longer labors and use of episiotomy, vacuum or forceps assisted delivery) and affect oxygen to baby’s brain. So turn from side to side every 20 to 30 minutes to help open your pelvis and get baby moving - it works like a side squat! You can use pillows or, even better, use a peanut ball between your legs. Ask your care practitioner about hospital policies about moving and eating after an epidural is placed.

4. What other procedures are involved? Whether you have an epidural or not, most hospitals and birth centers will require you to have an IV, usually inserted in your non-dominant arm. If you choose not to have an epidural, you can ask for a hep-lock instead, so you don’t have to carry the IV bag around with you. However, if you get an epidural, a continuous IV will be placed. Doctors will also insert a urinary catheter to help empty your bladder since you can’t get up to go to the bathroom. They’ll put the catheter once you’re numb and take it out before you push.

5. How much medication will I get? You can ask for the button to control your own epidural medication. Studies have shown that when self-medicated, patients give themselves smaller dosages!

6. What’s in an epidural? An epidural is a regional anesthesia that blocks pain to a specific part of the body. The medications used in the procedure fall into a class of drugs called local anesthetics. They include bupivacaine, chloroprocaine and lidocaine, among others. If your doctor wants to decrease the required dose of local anesthetic and give you pain relief with minimal effects, he or she can deliver an epidural with a combination of opioids or narcotics, such as fentanyl and sufentanil. The anesthesiologist may also combine it with epinephrine, fentanyl, morphine, or clonidine to prolong the epidural effects or to stabilize the mother’s blood pressure.

7. Will I feel pain? You shouldn’t feel any pain. The lower half of your body will be numb, but you may be able to feel pressure of vaginal exams and baby’s head as you push. If you want more sensation while pushing, which can help prevent pelvic injuries, you may be able to ask your care provider to reduce the dosage as you push to have better awareness. Occasionally, the epidural may be uneven, with more feeling in one leg or the other. Let your care provider know as soon as possible, if that is the case.

8. What are the risks? Epidurals are safe but, like any medical procedure, come with a few risks. An epidural may cause soreness in the area of administration, a low-grade fever, and a decrease in blood pressure, which can in turn slow down baby’s heartbeat. Many patients get the shivers or shakes from an epidural, in which case squeezing a stress ball can help. Occasionally, some people are allergic to the medication. There isn’t a good way to test for the allergy, but you can ask for it to be administered in small test doses to start. Epidural anesthesia can slow down the second stage of labor, which can then result in further medical interventions, like Pitocin administration and instrument-assisted delivery. In rare cases, women can experience severe headaches due to leakage of spinal fluid. If symptoms persist, your doctor will inject some of your blood in the epidural space -- a procedure called “blood patch.” Serious and life-threatening risks are rare, but can happen. They include slurred speech, drowsiness, convulsions. Death are very rare, but when they happen it's usually because of cardiac arrest, abscesses or blood clots.

My professional recommendation? Use your breathing, massage and movement techniques as long as you can to make sure your labor builds momentum. When you get to a point where you’re no longer able to relax through contractions and start to tense up, fight and resist them, or if you’ve been in labor for a really long time and are sleep deprived and exhausted, an epidural is a great option to help you get rest and sleep!

Illustration by Shanequa Simpson for Well Rounded.

In This Article

    Ara Katz/Seed

    We spoke to Ara Katz, co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, who shared her journey to (and through) motherhood—and gave us the lowdown on how probiotics can benefit mamas and children alike.

    Chances are, you're aware that probiotics can help us digest the food we eat, keep inflammation at bay, synthesize essential vitamins and more. But here's the thing: When it comes to probiotics, there's a lot of misinformation… and because of that, it's hard to know what's actually a probiotic and which is the right one for you.

    That's why we chatted with Ara Katz, who is a mama to son Pax and the co-founder of Seed, a company disrupting the probiotics industry. The entrepreneur told us about her motherhood journey, what led her to start her company and what she wants other parents to know about probiotics.

    Q. What was life like for you before you became a mama?

    I was bi-coastal after co-founding a mobile tech company in New York City with a partner in LA. My life was, for as long as I can remember, consumed by creating and work. I was fairly nomadic, loved to travel, spent many hours reading and practicing yoga, being with friends [and] waking up at the crack of dawn. [I] was fairly sure I would never marry or have children. And then something shifted.

    Q. What were some pivotal moments that defined your journey to motherhood?

    Ha, that makes it sound like motherhood is a destination when at this very moment, more than ever, it evolves daily. I lost my mom when I was 17 and spent most of my life believing I didn't want to be a mother. I had a lot of wiring about its limitations and constraints—I'm sure relics of grief and the fear of loss.

    My journey started with a physiological wanting to be pregnant and have a baby. There was a kind of visceral sense that my body wanted to know what that was like and a strange curiosity that, at least for that period of time, usurped my ambivalence about motherhood.

    Then I had a miscarriage—a beautiful inflection point in my story. I resigned from my company, chose a coast, committed to be more committed to my (then) boyfriend, now husband, and tried again. I got pregnant shortly after that and found pregnancy to be a profound journey within, a reshaping of my life and the tiniest glimpse of how motherhood would unfold.

    In the 55 months since giving birth (and I like to use months because I have learned in the moments that I am most frustrated as a mom that he has only been on this planet for less than 14 fiscal quarters), I have realized and surrendered to a definition of motherhood that is a process. One of cultivating, creating, recreating, shapeshifting, learning, feeling, healing, hurting and experiencing the most potent form of presence I have ever experienced—and an aching, expansive love I didn't know possible—not just for my son, but for all living things.

    Q. How did motherhood change your approach to your career?

    Becoming a mother is certainly a persistent lens on all of my choices, but it was really my miscarriage that recalibrated my path. My pregnancy rekindled my love of biology and health and led me to my co-founder and the microbiome. My breastfeeding experience incepted our first product focus, and the newfound accountability for a human inspired our brand.

    Q. What inspired you to co-found Seed?

    I met my co-founder, Raja, during my pregnancy with Pax. [I] was immediately awestruck by his ability to both deeply understand science and to methodically break down a product, dietary question or piece of advice in a way that's educational (you actually learn something about your body), actionable (you understand what to do with the information) and foundational (you can build on that knowledge in the future to continue to make better choices).

    As we spent more time, our combined passion for microbes, their potential impact on both human health and the environment, and how to set up a child for a healthy life became increasingly clear. And through birth, seeding (the process by which we get our foundational microbes and the inspiration for the name of our company) Pax and my struggles with breastfeeding, my entrepreneurial spirit was lit to build something with Raja. His deep experience in translating science to product, and mine in consumer, community-building and translating through storytelling, culminated in a shared vision to set a new standard in health through bacteria.

    Q. Probiotics have been trending in recent years, but they're nothing new—can you talk a bit about the importance of probiotics?

    Interest in gut health and probiotics increases month by month. However, despite the quickly growing number of "probiotic" supplements, foods and beverages out there, there's still a lot of consumer confusion—particularly around what they are, how they work and why we should take them. Probiotics have been studied extensively across various life stages, body sites and for many benefits. Digestion is an obvious and immediate one (and the primary reason most people currently take probiotics). But other strains have also been studied for skin health, heart health and gut health (including gut immune function and gut barrier integrity). But this doesn't mean that any and all probiotics can do these things—this is the importance of 'strain specificity.' In other words, ensuring that the specific strains in your probiotic have been studied for the benefit you desire is critical.

    Seed Daily Synbiotic


    Seed's Daily Synbiotic is a 24-strain probiotic + prebiotic formulated for whole-body benefits, including gut, skin and heart health.

    Q. How do probiotics play a role in your life?

    I mean, I take them, I develop them and I work with some of the leading scientists from around the world advancing the field—so they play a big role. As for my personal health, I take our Daily Synbiotic daily and my son also takes specific strains for gastrointestinal health and gut immune function. Beyond that, it's the re-orientation around my microbiome that guides many of my choices: how important fiber is, specific compounds like polyphenols found in berries, green tea and other foods, avoiding the use of NSAIDS like ibuprofen and antibiotics when not needed, exercise, sleep and time in nature [are] all aspects of our daily life that impact our microbiome and our health.

    Q. What are some misconceptions about probiotics that you would like to set straight?

    There's one main myth on from which all the other stem: that probiotics aren't considered a serious science. On the contrary, it's a field of inquiry that demands incredible rigor and extensive research. And when anything and everything from chocolate to ice cream to fermented food and kombucha to mattresses can call itself "probiotic" due to underregulation in the category, that grossly undermines the science and their potential.

    The term 'probiotic' has a globally-accepted scientific definition that was actually co-authored by our Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid ,for the United Nations/World Health Organization.

    At Seed, we work to reclaim the term for science, through the development of next-generation probiotics that include clinically validated strains and undergo the most rigorous safety, purity and efficacy testing procedures. Because why would you invite billions of unknown microbes into your body without asking "what's in here, is it the correct dosage that was studied, and has that strain in that amount been studied in human clinical trials to do something beneficial for my body"?

    Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what product you plan to launch next?

    We are developing a pipeline of consumer probiotics to target specific ecosystems of the body and life stages, including a synbiotic for children. Our next product will reflect a unique breakthrough in the field of pediatric probiotics, which we are excited to announce soon.

    This article was sponsored by Seed. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

    Our Partners

    Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

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    Happiest Baby: Baby sleep solutions designed by the experts

    Created by renowned pediatrician, baby sleep expert and (as some might say) lifesaver Dr. Harvey Karp, Happiest Baby has been helping new parents understand and nurture their infants for close to two decades. Building on the success of his celebrated books and video The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block he's developed groundbreaking, science-based product solutions that conquer a new parent's top stressor—exhaustion.

    WSEL Bags: Dad-designed diaper bags that think of everything

    WSEL stands for work smart, enjoy life—an ethos we couldn't agree with more. Founded by a stay at home dad who struggled to find a diaper bag that he not only wanted to use, but one that would last far beyond the baby years, these premium, adventure-ready backpacks are ideal for everything from errands to week-long getaways.

    Codex Beauty: Exceptionally effective sustainable skin care

    Codex Beauty's line of sustainable plant-based skin care blends the science of plant biology with biotech innovations, to create clinically proven, state-of-the-art products for all skin types. They're all vegan, EWG and Leaping Bunny verified and created in collaboration with Herbal Scientist Tracy Ryan who uses concepts dating back to the 8th century leveraging plants like sea buckthorn and calendula flower. Not only are we totally crushing on the innovative formulas that are in the packaging but we're in love with the sustainable sugarcane-derived tubes as well.

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    A love letter from your baby.


    I can't see past you right now, I'm so small and everything's a little blurry.

    All I see is you.

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