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Epidural

Many women are steadfast in their desire to deliver their babies as naturally as possible, without the use of pain medication; many others go so far as to schedule their elective c-section months in advance; but most women fall somewhere in between. The decision of how to give birth to your baby is a completely personal one and there is no “right way.” Before your big day arrives, sit down with your partner or delivery support team and consider all your options, talk to your doctor or midwife, and let him or her know your thoughts and feelings on the subject. Whether you want the full childbirth experience or just want to focus on the end result (your beautiful, healthy baby), setting expectations ahead of time will help you have the birth experience you desire.

Two things are true of labor pains: every woman feels them differently and they are unpredictable. What determines your level of discomfort includes your ability to tolerate pain, your baby’s position, the strength of your contractions, and if you’ve ever given birth before. Many women achieve sufficient pain management from relaxation, breathing, positioning, and visualization techniques they learned in childbirth classes. However, if the pain becomes unmanageable, it can increase anxiety, which can lead to muscle tension and a prolonged labor. In some cases, numbing can relax the mother and speed labor.

What is an epidural?

An epidural is used to provide pain relief, rather than total lack of sensation. Having an epidural during labor allows you to be fully conscious and aware of the entire labor and delivery experience, with a minimal amount of discomfort.

Epidural anesthesia is considered to be the most effective pain medication for childbirth. Doctors may use it to fully or partially numb the lower body. In the case of a partial, or light epidural, you may be able to walk or stand and actively push during contractions. A full epidural can be used during a c-section to fully numb the lower body but keep you awake and aware.

An epidural is administered during active labor, characterized by strong, regular contractions and cervical dilation of at least 4 centimeters. It is administered through a catheter (a thin tube) inserted into your lower back, in the area just in front of the sac containing the spinal fluid (epidural space).

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