Epidural has a bad rep for many things that really may or may not be true. It seems convenient to blame it for many things that may not be its fault.
After my delivery, as I was being pushed up to my ward, I felt nausea and only just managed to hold out till the nurses found me a plastic bag. After I emptied the contents of my stomach into it, the nurse manager said “don’t worry, it’s because of the epidural” well, what do you know, I didn’t have any epidural. Yet another undeserved bad rep epidural would have borne if not for this fact.
Another is backache. So many women told me they have backache due to epidural. I find that the reliability of this conclusion is suspect. My first delivery was a c-section with epidural and I don’t recall backache. This time I had a drug free natural birth and I suffered some backache. It was probably a combination of being older, strain on the back during the 9 months of pregnancy, carrying baby and rolling back with sitting to avoid putting pressure on the stitches. Again, it would have been easy to blame epidural if not for the fact that I didn’t get one.
That’s not to say that epidural has no disadvantages. It does, and the real disadvantages are (to me) more important than the backache etc. One important one is its effect on labour. Those who received epidural tended to have longer labors and have a higher chance of being diagnosed with failure of labour to progress or needing assisted delivery (vacuum or forceps) or emergency c-section. When I delivered, the only instruction I received was, go with your instinct, push when you feel like pushing. My friends who received epidural told me that they had to be told when to push by the midwives. understandably this would be less efficient than going with your instinct.
The other worry is whether the epidural drug diffuses out of the epidural space and enters the mother’s bloodstream, crosses the placenta and affects the baby. My understanding is that it does, and while current studies shows negligible effect on the baby, there may still be some effect. Even short term effects like making the baby drowsy for a short period after delivery may sound harmless but may actually be detrimental to establishing the first contact and hence have an effect on breastfeeding success, which then of course affects baby’s health and IQ.
So there… here’s my take on epidural, make an educated choice. No judgement, just know what it really entails, do not be unduly frightened off but equally do not jump into it not knowing potential dangers. The above assumes normal successful epidural admission, there is the usual risk as with use of all drugs and all invasive (however minimally invasive) procedures of allergy to the drug, the needle puncturing where it is not supposed to etc and the effects are outside the scope of my knowledge frankly.