Are There Side Effects With An Epidural After Birth?

By: Jennifer Cole | Epidurals | October 25, 2021

The statistics say it all: of the 17 million births that took place in the United States between 2009-2014, 71 percent of these birthing people received an epidural. As prevalent as epidurals have become in modern birth culture, it would imply that they must be inherently safe, effective, and free of all major side effects, right?

Well, not exactly. Anytime a medical procedure is performed on your body that 1) penetrates your spinal column, and 2) administers anesthetic drugs, there will always be a potential for adverse reactions and side effects. The question then becomes, what are the potential side effects? Do the benefits of getting an epidural outweigh the risks? 

The Benefits of an Epidural

There’s a reason that epidurals are as popular—and as common—as they are. First and foremost, they numb the sensations of uterine contractions in labor. And that’s huge. When you’ve been in active labor for a number of hours, getting this break can be a Godsend. It gives you the opportunity to rest and allow your body to relax, providing much needed relief. 

Since you never know what sort of labor you’re going to have, the promise of pain relief can be powerful. Whereas it’s possible to get through labor without the need of medication, you may decide that the sensations you’re experiencing are more intense than you were expecting. Knowing that you have this option available to you as Plan B can be a psychological benefit to help you get through labor. 

The Potential Side Effects of an Epidural Before Baby Is Born 

There are a number of side effects that can occur once you have an epidural:

A Drop in Blood Pressure

Getting an epidural can cause a drop in your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is slightly elevated beforehand then this can be a good thing, but if it’s already been on the low side then having it drop even more can lead to feelings of lightheadedness.*

Additional Interventions

Once an epidural has been administered it can affect the natural progression of labor which in turn can lead to additional interventions becoming necessary. These interventions can sometimes cause complications that could increase the likelihood of a c-section.*

The Potential Side Effects of an Epidural After Baby Is Born 

There are also some side effects that can occur when the epidural is wearing off or afterwards:

Shaking

As the anesthesia begins to wear off after the pump is turned off it’s a common side effect for your body to shake. This shivering sensation can be uncomfortable, but isn’t painful. It usually won’t last for too long, but it can be a nuisance when you’re holding your baby for the first time. You only get to experience this special golden hour to bond with your baby once. Having the shakes can potentially impede this moment.

Spinal Headache

Although it’s rare, a spinal headache can develop a day or two after giving birth. The reason this may happen has to do with the needle puncture you are given in the epidural space surrounding your spinal cord before the catheter is placed. There’s a risk this needle will pierce the dural sac, causing cerebral spinal fluid to leak out. When the pressure inside the dural sac changes, it can result in a severe spinal headache. 

Normally the puncture site where the catheter was placed in your spinal column will heal over on its own so that there is no loss of spinal fluid. However, in instances where this doesn’t happen a blood patch can be administered to scab over the puncture and restore equilibrium to the spinal fluid. The other symptoms that can sometimes accompany a spinal headache are hearing loss, blurred or double vision, dizziness, neck stiffness, ringing in the ears, and nausea.

Side Effects From the Foley Catheter

You will have a foley catheter placed in your bladder for the duration of your epidural. Because the catheter is inserted through the urethra, there’s a possibility that you might develop a urinary tract infection afterward. In rare instances, you may experience difficulty urinating and develop more serious complications.

Weigh the Risks and Benefits Ahead of Time

Even though our modern medical system has gravitated to a one-size-fits-all approach to childbirth, it’s up to you to discern whether the commonplace procedure of an epidural is right you and your baby. After all, you are a unique person with your own preferences and needs. Perhaps an epidural fits in with your plan for labor, but perhaps it doesn’t. Knowing all the facts ahead of time will ensure that you make the most informed choice for yourself and your baby.

About the author:
Jennifer Cole CD(DONA) DONA Certified Birth Doula and Hypnobabies Certified HypnoDoula supporting families throughout San Diego County.

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