Opinions vary on whether mums should have an epidural or not, however it is your labour and ultimately your decision so it’s important to do what feels right for you. Some mums swear by it while others want to be able to feel the birth of their child. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are well informed before making your decision.
The epidural is an injection of anaesthetic in your lower back. It is administered between contractions, usually at about 5cm dilation when contractions are getting strong. A tiny tube is then attached and taped to your back and over the shoulder so that anaesthetic can be controlled. This is the only drug that will completely take away your pain. You will also need a catheter as you will not be able to control your bladder while under epidural.
There are advantages and disadvantages to having an epidural. The obvious advantage is that you will not feel any pain during your labour. However, because you will not be able to feel anything it may make it more difficult to push and so it is more likely that you will have a ventouse or forceps birth. You will also not be able to walk or move properly in your bed during labour.
There is also a very small chance that the epidural needle will cut a membrane around the spinal cord. While you will not feel anything at the time, after the labour you could have a severe headache. Your anaesthetist will be able to repair this by injecting blood from your arm into the site of the tear. There is also a very low risk of nerve damage to your leg or foot but this very rarely happens.
If you do want to have an epidural it is best to say it as soon as possible so that the anaesthetist can make time to administer it to you
Epidurals are only available in obstetrician-led maternity units and cannot be administered if you choose to have a home birth. Even when you do give birth in a maternity unit, you cannot be guaranteed an epidural. It will depend on when you go into labour, if the anaesthetist is available and if you have any underlying medical conditions that could cause problems.
If you would like to feel the birth of your child then ask about letting the epidural wear off closer to the birth. This will also make it easier for you to push.
There is no right or wrong decision here and you should not feel guilty about whatever decision you make. Do whatever you feel is right for you and your baby.