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Benefits and Risks

While an epidural has obvious benefits for many women, it is not without risks. An epidural may cause:

  • A prolonged labor. Some research has shown that epidural labor takes, on average, an hour longer than natural childbirth. If labor stalls after the epidural, your doctor may inject pitocin to make your contractions stronger, which can overstimulate your uterus and cause severe contractions.
  • Your blood pressure to drop severely. This happens in approximately one to two percent of cases and can cause your baby’s heart rate to drop. Your doctor will give you intravenous fluids before the epidural and throughout the rest of your labor to prevent this.
  • You to be unable to feel contractions or push. This may necessitate the use of forceps or vacuum to deliver your baby and increases the likelihood of having a c-section.
  • Your baby to move into the wrong position (malposition) due to relaxed uterine and pelvic muscles. However, some experts believe that the baby may already be in the wrong position, causing additional pain that prompts the woman to ask for an epidural.
  • You to have a seizure. However, this happens very rarely.

You may also experience so-called "hot spots," or areas where you can still feel pain, and may experience shivering. Side effects after delivery are rare, but they can occur. Some women report soreness at the catheter site during recovery, while others have a severe, prolonged headache after delivery (often called a spinal headache). The headache may be relieved by taking pain medication, lying flat, and drinking plenty of fluids. If the pain persists, an anesthesiologist can treat it with an injection.

Some women are not candidates for an epidural due to medical conditions, bleeding disorders, and certain complications of pregnancy. If you are considering an epidural, talk to your doctor or midwife ahead of time to make sure it is safe for you and your baby.

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