Labor

Natural Vs. Epidural Labor

Guess what? There are actually more options than this. Pain medication can come in a form other than an epidural. I chose a natural birth, but that’s not for everyone.

At the end of this post, I’m going to link a youtube video I found very informative about the different experiences of going natural or getting an epidural. It’s two moms talking who had their babies at around the same time. One went natural, the other took an Epi.

Natural birth

Pros:

Stork delivering a baby.
Stork delivering a baby.
  • You get to be mobile
  • You can feel when your body is ready to push
  • Some research suggests babies are better able to breastfeed if Mom doesn’t take drugs during labor (you can still breastfeed even if you do take drugs, so don’t let that be the only factor that causes you to go natural)
  • drugs aren’t being introduced into your body

Cons:

  • You feel all the pain (there may be only one thing on the cons list, but it’s a doozy)

Epidural

The epidural numbs pain completely, although you may still feel pressure from contractions and the baby’s head against the pelvis, in the lower abdomen, back, and perineum.

You are alert with the epidural.

The process for the epidural takes about 15 minutes. When it is done, pain relief should come no later than 30 mins. The most common range is between 15 and 30 mins, but relief can come sooner.

An epidural is given through a catheter in the back, right above the pelvic bone. A needle is used to stick the catheter in, the needle is removed, but the catheter remains until labor is done.

You will also get a second catheter for bathroom purposes. If you have an epidural, you will be stuck to the bed unable to go to the bathroom. So a second catheter is needed for the bladder.

Pros:

IV
A woman stuck in a chair attached to an IV.
  • effective pain relief
  • allows for rest
  • does not affect mental state
  • no risk to baby known

Cons:

  • doesn’t work for every woman
  • areas of pain may still exist but that can usually be corrected by repositioning mom or catheter
  • possibility of blood pressure lowering which may lead to a need of mother receiving oxygen or fluids
  • possibility of shivering, itching, or nausea which can all be treated with medication
  • may increase the risk of fever (keyword being may)
  • may cause soreness or bruising where the catheter was inserted
  • Lengthens labor
  • If given before 4 cm dilated, chances of an emergency c-section are doubled. If given after 4 cm dilated, no increase in the likelihood of c-section. Research on the subject available.

The epidural does come with a long list of cons. But these are all possibilities, they may or may not happen. Ways to reduce the risk of negative side effects include:

  • move position from side to side every so often
  • wait to push until you feel the pressure of the baby’s head
  • wait for the cervix to be well dilated

Some women cannot get an epidural because of certain conditions. These include:

  • certain back problems or surgeries
  • infection at the injection site
  • back skin disorders
  • problems with the heart, bleeding, or blood pressure
  • allergies to the drug
  • some neurological disorders

Analgesics

Analgesics do not numb completely, but they do lessen the pain. They are administered by a quick shot or injection into the IV bag.

Pros:

A needle with medicine.
A needle with medicine.
  • fast administration
  • fast relief
  • allows for rest
  • muscles are not numbed
  • multiple doses

Cons:

  • reduced mobility
  • may cause drowsiness or disorientation
  • may cause itching or nausea but these can be addressed with medication
  • may temporarily slow baby’s breathing and reflexes – medication can treat this
  • may cause a sleepy baby which can make breastfeeding difficult (even without meds, my baby was still super sleepy after birth)
  • when the drug wears off, pain may be more intense
  • additional doses can be less effective

Again, these side effects are possibilities, not guaranteed. And to reduce their effect on baby it is recommended not to take them between 1 to 3 hours before birth.

Other types of pain relief

I don’t have as much information on these, so details on them will be less.

Local Anesthetics

This is an injection that provides short-term pain relief. It is used before an episiotomy or an assisted delivery (forceps or vacuum extractor).

They are also used before any stitching after labor is done. I did get these, and I’m honestly not sure if they worked for me. I felt stuff I didn’t want to feel. That’s about all I know.

The doctor wasn’t sure if I actually felt her stitching or just felt her fingers. So she injected me a few times throughout the whole process. To me, it felt like the stitching I was feeling, but I could be wrong.

Spinal Block

This is usually used for a planned C-Section and assisted vaginal deliveries. It is similar to an epidural in that it is inserted into the lower back.

The difference is that the needle goes into the spine to inject the pain medicine. It is fast acting. And the spinal and epidural can be combined.

The spinal method is used to allow quick pain relief. Then the catheter is used for long-term administration.

Nitrous Oxide

Yes, laughing gas. Not all hospitals do this. It is given with oxygen through a face mask or mouthpiece just like how liquid drugs get administered with the IV.

It is widely used during dental procedures for pain relief and reaches the whole body.

dental exam
A dental exam.

Oxygen

This is not a pain relief option, but it is still something that can be needed during labor. That’s why it’s being included in this list.

In some of the options above, it’s noted that oxygen may be used in conjunction with them. But it may also be used during a natural labor.

I received it when I started hyperventilating from compounding contractions. It was wonderful when they put the oxygen mask on my face.

My breaths were able to produce more results even though they were still rapid.

IV

Again, not a pain relief option on its own, but it may be used to administer pain medication.

It is also required for administering Strep B drugs. I had Strep B, so I was immediately hooked up to an IV. They want to get two injections in, one when you first arrive, and one four hours later. After that, they will take the IV out.

A woman with an IV.
A woman with an IV.

We ended up asking them to keep the IV in. The contractions were getting more intense, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay hydrated.

I require massive amounts of water to sustain myself on a no activity day. So for labor, I knew skimping on the hydration would go bad for me.

The IV was the best way to do that once I could no longer drink easily on my own.

My breastfeeding book did mention that an IV can cause a bigger engorgement of breasts when the milk comes in.

But the engorgement still seceded like it was supposed to, so I didn’t find it too big of a deal. I also didn’t have pain with it. My breasts were just heavy, a little hard, and hot.

2nd Stage Interventions

The term 2nd stage intervention is used for ways to get the baby out faster during the pushing phase. The pushing phase is referred to the second phase of labor. 2nd stage interventions might need to be done because of a long labor, resulting in an exhausted mother; difficulty pushing due to anesthesia; position of Baby; or size of Baby.

Episiotomy

In simplest terms, the perineal (area between the anus and vagina) is cut to allow a bigger hole for baby to come through.

These suck to heal from, so if you don’t need it, don’t get it.

The hospital I gave birth at had a policy that they were only done when necessary, but that is not true everywhere.

Wherever you are giving birth, check their policy on that and your doctor’s/midwife’s preference.

Vacuum Extractor

A suction cup gets put on a crowned baby‘s head and allows the doctor or midwife to gently pull the baby as the mother pushes.

Forceps

They’re like a special kind of tong that goes around the baby’s head and the doctor or midwife pulls.

My husband was actually delivered using forceps. My father-in-law used to love to tell the story of how the doctor put the forceps around my husband’s head, put her foot on the bed for a brace, and yanked him right out.

And he is none worse the wear for it.

Risks:

The vacuum extractor and forceps come with the following risks:

  • bruising of baby’s head
  • tearing of mother’s perineum, vagina, or anus
  • nerve problems in baby’s face, usually temporary, rarely permanent

^^Again these are possibilities, not guarantees

Fun fact: Sylvester Stallone was born using forceps, and it is the reason he has a droop in his face.

Choose what’s best for YOU

There are many options to take during delivery. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ for what’s best.

Each mother and child is different. A lot of people who advocate for natural birth treat it like it’s the only way to go. I got that message from a new mom even back in middle school.

Personally, I think that’s a load of baloney.

There is no special woman badge for doing labor naturally. If you don’t want to feel the pain, get the meds. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I did not go over different induction options or C-Sections. I plan to write a post for each of those individually. As well as one for pain management during a natural labor. And here is the video I promised.

What did you choose for your labor? Would you choose the same option again or try something different? If you haven’t gone through labor yet, what do you want to choose?

Multiple right ways
Multiple right ways

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Andrea
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Andrea

Hi! For my first child I chose to have an epidural. I was in A LOT of pain – already in labor for over 24 hours. Something I didn’t realize (I know its dumb…please don’t judge) is that you can’t get up and walk around after you get it! It was definitely effective, but mentally it’s hard for me to stay in one place so long. Btw, I was in labor for almost 48 hours total

Tina
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Tina

Hi! I gave birth at a midwife center and not a hospital. I did a natural birth in a birthing tub. This was my first baby and my labor time was unusually short, 5 hours in total. I strongly advocate for natural births unless the mother or child is in danger. From my understanding those hours after birth are crucial. Not only does the child need to be breastfed within the first hour but there is extremely important bonding happening there. Not that is detrimental to the child’s or mother’s health if it doesn’t happen but I think it has… Read more »

Bruce
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Having gone through three child births by my wife’s side and have in doing so done my homework, I would like to add to the epidural. It lists as a pro “no known risk to the baby” however, mom-to-be need to know there is a HUGE risk as statistically epidurals often lead to emergency C-Sections. Mom can no longer feel exactly how to push and guide the baby through the birthing canal properly. This leads to putting the baby into dangerous situations (ergo C-Section), and often a lot of tearing as well!!!

Benji
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Benji

This was an interesting post! I had heard the two terms before, but I never actually understood what epidural meant (natural was pretty self explanatory). Thanks for this!