Is the Epidural safe during childbirth?

The epidural is often a concern for mothers, especially those about to give birth for the first time. There is a lot of talk about its risks, much of which is based on medical myths. In this article, I'll clarify everything mothers need to know about epidurals for childbirth.

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Karine Chahda
Published on:Dec 10th 2023 |Updated on:Jun 10th 2024
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Types of Vaginal Delivery

Physiological Birth

It is also known as instinctive birth, where no medical intervention such as induction or pain relievers is used. With continuous fetal monitoring, the expecting mom can walk and move during labor. When she feels pressure in the pelvic area and is ready for delivery, she begins to push. This results in a completely natural birth, as if she gave birth at home.

Medicated Vaginal Birth

There are several options for pharmacological pain relief, including:

Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas)

This gas is inhalable, like what dentists use. It is usually inhaled at the onset of contractions and can continue until the baby is delivered. It causes mild dizziness and makes the woman feel like she's in another world 😊.


As an injection administered in the thigh during labor, it's not recommended near the baby's delivery as it can be absorbed into the placenta, potentially making the baby drowsy.

Epidural Anesthesia

One of the most preferred methods for painless childbirth. It involves injecting pain medications through a catheter into the epidural space above the dura mater. It differs from spinal anesthesia. The anesthetic is continuously infused throughout labor and even after delivery while the doctor stitches the birthing incision.

When can the epidural be administered?

There is a misconception that the epidural cannot be given at any time during labor, but the truth is it can be provided at any stage before pushing. However, its impact is most potent at the beginning of labor, especially in early active labor. The common practice is administering it at the beginning of the active labor stage when contractions are regular, and the woman can sit for the anesthesiologist to place it correctly. Some may choose not to take it towards the end of labor due to its cost, and insurance may not cover it entirely, so women may opt not to take it to benefit from it for a short period.

Can you move after getting an epidural?

Some types of epidurals, known as "Walking Epidurals," allow women to move during labor. These epidurals numb only the pelvic, abdominal, and perineal areas without affecting the legs. Some women can move their legs immediately after stopping the drug infusion, while others may need two hours or more before regaining movement. It depends on how the body reacts to the analgesic dose, which varies from person to person.

Risks of the Epidural on the Fetus

The epidural does not directly impact the fetus, but the medications given to the mother in case her blood pressure drops after the epidural may affect the baby. These medications treating the mother's low blood pressure can sometimes affect the baby's heartbeat and oxygen levels. Therefore, women in labor are given intravenous fluids before epidural pain relief. It's worth noting that even if the mother takes an epidural, she can breastfeed her baby immediately after delivery, as the pain-relieving medication does not affect the milk.

Possible Risks

  • Itching is expected as a side effect of the drugs administered through the catheter.
  • Drop in the mother's blood pressure.
  • Inability to move.
  • Inability to urinate and requiring a urinary catheter until childbirth.
  • Spinal headache, a condition requiring intervention by an anesthesiologist, is caused by spinal fluid depletion, which may occur in rare cases.
  • Shivering during childbirth due to hormonal changes and anesthesia medications.


  • It is often falsely claimed that it can cause paralysis, which is not true as it does not reach the spinal cord and does not cause paralysis.
  • Many women complain of back pain due to the epidural, and the pain is muscular, caused by the injection site. Back pain may also result from the baby pushing for an extended period or choosing an uncomfortable breastfeeding position.
  • The anesthesia's impact may be stronger on one side of the body than the other. It is not considered a drawback or a medical error. It is because it is selective and because of the possible scoliosis that may occur due to pregnancy, leading to the concentration of anesthesia in one place more than others. This issue can be resolved by adjusting the catheter's position or having the woman lie on the side where the pain is concentrated.


Check out 5 Surprises That Can Happen During Childbirth



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Karine ChahdaMidwife Nurse

A new mom and Licenced Midwife, she holds a degree from the Lebanese University. Karine worked in the NICU unit at St. George University Hospital in Beirut. Then, she worked as a Midwife in the same hospital for five years. She joined the maternity ward at Danat Al Emarat Hospital in Abu Dhabi in 2021. Karine has a great passion for her role as a Midwife; she believes it is a blessing from God to witness the miracle of life born from another life. She thinks nothing is more beautiful than witnessing this miracle daily through her work. Karine believes that each of us has a specific role in life. She sees her role not as a job but as a vocation where she can assist others, and she is grateful for this blessing.

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