An epidural is administered to a laboring woman by inserting a narrow catheter into the “dura” space near the spinal cord. This catheter allows for the administration of anesthesia during labor.
Side effects of an epidural are rare and may include:
– a drop in blood pressure that can temporarily slow the baby’s heart rate
– mild itching, shivering or a fever
– severe headache that can last for days or weeks
– breathing problems
– Difficulty pushing during the second stage of labor
Women who have an epidural do tend to have longer labors and more vaginal deliveries in which the doctor uses instruments to help the baby out. Use of other drugs and IV fluids and frequent electronic fetal monitoring are also common with an epidural.
There have been few studies regarding the use of epidurals and their relation to Cesarean deliveries. The data from these studies seems to indicate that an epidural may increase the chance of a C-Section by as much as 10%. More research is needed on this topic, however.
Perhaps more important than the question of the epidural and its relation to C-Section is that you know your physician and her rate of C-Section deliveries. You should look for a physician whose Cesarean rate is below 10-15%. It is important that you discuss the issue of pain relief with your doctor prior to your labor and delivery. She can address concerns you may have about the use of an epidural, as well as any potential side effects and risks.