You might not exactly love the idea of having a large needle inserted into your spine. Even so, epidurals are the most common form of pain relief requested by women in labour.
Reasons women have an epidural vary from being scared of labour pain to being too exhausted to carry on after a long time in labour.
10 Weird Things You Didn’t Know About Epidurals
Epidurals aren’t risk free, for mother or baby, so it’s important to know what you’re asking for when you decide to have one.
You can find out more in Epidural During Labour – Everything You Need To Know.
Aside from the expected relief from pain, and the more common side effects of epidurals, there are a few strange things you might not be aware of.
Here are 10 weird things you didn’t know about epidurals:
#1: You Can Sit Very Still
While an epidural is put in place, the anaesthetist will impress on you the need to sit very still.
You’re hunched over your belly, having contractions, while a large needle is being inserted in your spine? Sit still? How is that even possible?
Well, the thought of what could happen if you moved while said large needle was being inserted is usually a good incentive. Although paralysis from epidural is quite rare, the thought is definitely not appealing.
And if you’re going to the trouble of having one put in, you want to it to work properly. Moving at the critical movement might cause epidural failure and that’s not ok.
#2: You Might Get An Electric Shock
The anaesthetist might let you know in the middle of the procedure you could feel a jolt of electric shock in one leg. This happens when the epidural catheter brushes against the nerves in the epidural space.
It doesn’t last long, but it can feel a bit weird and unexpected. If the epidural is placed correctly, you should begin to feel the effects of the anaesthetic within minutes.
#3: You Have Imaginary Contractions
After the epidural is placed, you can watch your contractions roll by on the monitor without feeling a thing.
That’s assuming of course, the epidural is in the right place, and you’re not one of the unlucky ones who still has pain in one area of the lower body.
So, just lie back and watch a movie, read a book or have a rest. You’ll be hooked up to a monitor which will be tracking all the peaks and troughs of the contractions that you can’t feel.
#4: You Might Catch Some ZZZZZs
Depending on when you’ve elected to have an epidural, you might be pretty tired. Like many women, you might have already been through long hours of labour before you opt for pain relief, so it’s likely you are exhausted.
It’s really hard to believe, but once that anaesthesia is up and running, you can’t feel anything from the waist down. You can actually stop having to cope with contractions. And you’re already on the bed, so you might close your eyes – just for a few seconds….
#5: You Feel A Bit Hot
Once you have an epidural in place, you might notice your care provider taking your temperature at regular intervals.
This is because up to 30% of women who have epidurals also develop a fever, with no sign of infection. The reason for it isn’t really understood, although it’s thought to be associated with prolonged labour – a known side effect of epidurals. Epidural fever is also more likely to occur in first time mothers.
The main problem with epidural fever is your care provider might be concerned about infection, and your baby will need to have invasive tests and antibiotics.
#6: You Get A Bit Itchy
One of the weirdest side effects of an epidural is itchy skin. This has to do with the medications used in epidurals.
It’s usually not too bad, but it’s not fun to have one itchy spot that can’t be eased. Tell your care provider so you can get some relief. A cold compress on the area might help; otherwise you might be able to take some medication to counter the itchy feeling.
#7: You Might Need A Top Up
You’re lying back and watching those contractions roll by, and perhaps you’ve even had a nap. But now you might be wondering how long this pain free state is going to last.
Epidural anaesthesia is like any medication; it doesn’t last indefinitely. Depending on the type of epidural you’ve been given, you might begin to feel some pain returning after 1 or 2 hours, and you’ll need a top up.
Read more about this in How Long Does An Epidural Last?
#8: You’re Not Going Anywhere
You’re pretty much stuck in one place. If the epidural is doing its job, your lower body is numb, so there’s no getting up for a change of scenery. Or to go to the toilet. You’ll have a catheter inserted into your bladder to remove the urine – but don’t worry, they do that after the epidural.
You might be able to use your arms to shift your position somewhat, but it’s likely you’ll still need support to move. Lying down on your back can mean your baby is pressing on major veins, so it’s a good idea to have someone help you lie on your left side.
#9: You Can Still Feel Something
The main idea of an epidural is to give pain relief, but it can’t take away all sensation.
When your cervix is fully dilated, your baby begins to descend through the pelvic brim and through the vagina. If you have a continuous infusion epidural in place, you will probably feel no pain, but you will feel the pressure of your baby squeezing through that space.
While this might feel really weird, it’s a pretty important part of labour. You can work with that pressure to help push your baby out.
#10: It Might Be Too Late
You might be holding out for as long as you can, or you might’ve decided you want an epidural as soon as you get to hospital. Either way, just because you’ve made the decision doesn’t mean you automatically have an epidural.
Your care provider will do a vaginal examination to determine how dilated you are. Sometimes, if the hospital is busy, you might not be able to have an epidural immediately. You might just have to wait.
If you’re in early labour, your care provider might advise waiting until contractions are more established. An epidural can slow things down and it might mean you will need further interventions, such as artificial oxytocin, to kick things along.
Or you might be almost fully dilated, and there’s no time for an anaesthetist to set up an epidural.
In that case, you’re ready to have your baby right now!