When women consider the notion of giving birth, many immediately assume that they’ll do an epidural without much of a second thought. They are completely paralyzed by fear and the probability of pain that they’ve been socialized to believe must accompany child-birth. One seldom hears of a woman having had a painless labor and one certainly never sees it in the child-birth images on television or in the movies. Giving birth is inevitably painful and the only way around it is to get an epidural, right?
Well, not quite, or at least, child-birth doesn’t have to be painful and an epidural isn’t the only way to offset the pain. A growing trend in the child-birthing world is hypnobirthing, which espouses the idea of mind over body and provides women with the mental tools necessary to counter the physical effects of laboring and birthing. At the heart of it is a better understanding of birthing biology and how a woman’s body is created in a way that enables birthing to take place. Essentially, the uterus has three muscle layers that ideally work together to move the baby down and out of the uterus into the birth canal. However, the fear that many women have about the birthing experience prevents these muscles from working together in a harmonious fashion to facilitate the birthing process. According to Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie Mongan, when fear strikes any human body, it activates the body’s Automatic Nervous System (ANS) to respond. The body responds via one of three avenues: by fleeing, fighting or freezing. It also alters the system of blood flow by allocating more flow to the organs essential for survival. The uterus unfortunately is not one of these vital organs and a birthing woman, obviously, cannot flee or fight in response to her fear. As a result, she freezes or rather muscles in her uterus freezes as a result of blood no longer flowing to the uterine area. When the blood flow decreases to the uterus, it creates havoc in the muscle system, and the three muscle layers are not able to work together as intended. As a result, the uterus essentially refuses to open and the laboring mother experiences a tremendous amount of pain along with her baby who is having a difficult time passing through the uterus. All of this can essentially lead to a more drawn-out birthing experience, which leads to more pain and so on and so on.
The epidural essentially acts as an artificial muscle relaxer to prevent the muscles from tightening up due to the mother’s fear mechanism going into overdrive. It’s a quick solution that many women don’t seriously consider before choosing because it’s such a common solution. The list of disadvantages for an epidural on babycenter.com is nearly three times as long as the list of advantages while the list of disadvantages according to americanpregnancy.org is also longer than the list of advantages. Let’s go through the advantages first.
First, the epidural can provide effective pain relief for labor pains and it allows you to be awake for the duration of the labor and delivery experience. One piece that the American Pregnancy Organization (APO) emphasizes is that it can ease irritability, exhaustion and fatigue in the birthing process when all other mechanisms have failed, suggesting that it is worthwhile to try other methods of coping before jumping immediately to the epidural. Another advantage is that it prepares the mother for an emergency c-section if the situation requires it. According to Dr. Shalene Magee, an anesthesiologist based out of Atlanta, GA, the quick turn of events that can lead to an emergency c-section may prevent the usage of the epidural to relieve pain during surgery and may instead require the mom be put to sleep, which can up the ante in terms of risks. It’s much more preferable to perform a c-section with mother fully awake.
Now, for the downside of the epidural. First, it can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure and periodic monitoring needs to be performed to check the mother’s and the baby’s blood pressure. If the pressure has gone down, the mother will need treatment via IV fluids. Second, an epidural can extend the pushing stage of the labor process because the loss of sensation in the lower body makes it more difficult for the woman to bear down and push the baby out. As a result, forceps or a vacuum may need to be employed to extract the baby or a c-section may need to be performed to get the baby out. This is because the baby can handle only a certain amount of pushing stress and time in that stage before it looses oxygen and blood. An epidural will also require the mother to alternate lying on one side to the other side and have continuous monitoring for changes in the fetal heart rate. Many studies have also found that babies of epidural moms have had difficulties latching on, which leads to challenges in breastfeeding. There have also been links found in some studies to the baby experiencing respiratory depression, fetal malpositioning, and an increase in fetal heart rate variability.
It seems that the potential harm that an epidural can do to the mom and the baby far outweigh the pain relief that it can offer. When considering that motherhood is about making sacrifices for your child, including the ultimate—your life, and considering the list of potential side effects on your child’s life, the decision to have an epidural or not should be a no brainer. While every woman needs to make the decision that is best suited for their specific personal and medical needs, women should not make the decision to get an epidural simply out of fear of pain. Just like with every decision that new moms will have to make moving forward, this decision needs to be made by considering what is best and safest for the child.
However, choosing what is best for your child doesn’t have to mean experiencing a great deal of pain. As mentioned earlier in this piece, the culprit of labor pains is fear. The great thing about fear is that it is a mental state of mind that be mitigated through mental preparation. It is completely about strengthening your mind to combat the physical impulses of your body and one way to develop that strength of mind is through hypnobirthing. For some women, hypnobirthing has enabled them to have a completely pain-free birthing experience and for other women, it has enabled them to better react to the pain so that it’s not completely debilitating to the psyche and the body. The more time one dedicates to the mental exercises espoused in hypnobirthing, the better one’s chances of experiencing a manageable birthing experience.