Monday, April 27, 2009

Epidurals: The Tip of the Iceberg

Recently in my reading, I have come across many alarming statistics, but one in particular stuck out.

From Birthing from Within
by Pam England and Rob Horowitz

"It is a popular myth that epidural medication doesn't get to the baby. Epidural anesthetics do cross the placental barrier. Anesthetic levels in the baby's blood have been found to be as high as one-third of the maternal blood levels. As a result, compared to unmedicated babies, babies in the epidural or pitocin-epidural groups showed "drugged behavior" (trembling, irritability, and immature motor activity) on the first day, with behavior recovery by the fifth day. It takes 48 hours for a newborn to eliminate the epidural anesthetic from its system."

I am going to try and not to step on anyone's toes too much here, but I find it interesting to hear a variety of birth stories. (I am more fascinated by watching all kinds of births, but that is for another post.) What I hear often in medicated births is "the epidural was amazing" or "I don't know what I would have done without it." Some women will bend over backwards to take extreme care during pregnancy by eating well, making every visit with the doctor to see how the baby is developing, exercising, taking prenatal vitamins and other supplements, getting enough rest, and staying hydrated. Parents buy safety locks, outlet plugs, and put all breakable and sharp objects out of reach before baby is even born. But, when it comes to the birth, they seem unphased by the paramount risks the epidural poses to their baby.

Having an unmedicated birth is something you need to decide before you get to the hospital. Often times nurses will try and talk you in or out of having an epidural. The time of birth is not the time to decide to have a natural birth. The anesthesiologist may arrive at a point where all you can think about is "getting drugs!" Can a woman honestly weigh the risks and benefits of an epidural at that stage in labor? Education before the birth is key.

Natural birth takes preparation in a different way then medicated births. I tell anyone who is having a natural birth to take The Bradley Method childbirth class. (FYI: Donna is teaching a Bradley class June-August for those of you expecting in the DFW area).

If you choose to have an unmedicated birth, there are many ways a doula can support you and your partner. As a doula, I provide comfort measures and relaxation techniques to help mothers in labor. I also help dads learn how to provide support to their partner as well. I meet with couples prenatally 2-4 times or more to discuss the birth and needs of the family during birth, as well as provide pregnancy support with nutritional consultations, massage, and acupressure.

Parents, I encourage you to do your research and educate yourself before the birth day. That way, when you decide on your choices for birth, you can have all the facts and support you need to make the decisions that are best for you and your baby!


Karilyn Sanders said...

Great post! I think a lot of women would make different decisions about using epidurals if they knew the effect is has on their baby. Not to mention that epidurals tend to slow down labor, requiring more pitocin, which often leads to the baby going into distress, which often leads to c-sections (that could have been avoided altogether)!

Knowledge is power:-)

Donna Ryan said...

Hey, thanks for the plug. I expect a full class this summer. The last 2 classes have been completely full -- busting at the seams! Of 15 births (last 2 classes), 13 were unmedicated, one epidural, and 1 c-section. Not bad statistics, if you asked me. They made me proud!