Labor and Delivery: natural vs. epidural
Giving birth is a scary, scary event in a woman’s life. There are so many questions to ask and have answered…
Will I breast or bottle feed?
What should I name the baby?
Will I go into labor on my own or be induced?
Will my water dramatically break while I’m grocery shopping and I’ll have to race to the hospital before the baby is born on the highway?!?
Will I get an epidural or other pain medications, or try to deliver without?
I asked all these questions and more with each pregnancy. It’s exhausting! I did a lot of research before it was time to deliver, and I’m sure you are, too! It’s great to be informed, and you should learn from every credible source you can!
In addition to my experience having two babies, I am also a Labor and Delivery Nurse, and it’s a job I’m very proud of. I absolutely love helping women through their labor and delivery, and it’s really amazing to watch a family be born.
Please note: The views on this website are personal opinions only and do not represent the opinions or policies of any provider or institution that I am affiliated with. This information is not medical advice. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose, or treat any form of any disease. This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only. You should always refer to your own medical provider when making medical decisions for yourself and/or your baby. Please refer to my Terms and Conditions for more information
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I went into the induction of my first baby positive I would NOT receive pain medication. I didn’t want to talk about it, I wasn’t going to do it.
I look back now and realize this is because I had heard my whole pregnancy how my mom and both sister-in-laws gave birth without an epidural. I felt like giving birth with an epidural was a weak way out. I realize now that this is crazy talk! If you feel that way, PLEASE change the dialogue in your brain. It is NOT true.
I have seen so many women beat themselves up (like I did) because they felt like they were less of a woman for getting an epidural. My family members had no intention if making me feel that way, but ultimately it did.
I have also seen men say that they don’t think women should have epidurals. Yes, I’m 100% serious. I’ve heard men say it is selfish to have an epidural (!!!!!). If you have a man like this in your life, I encourage you to kick him in the nuts every 2-3 minutes for several hours, and see how long it takes for him to beg you to stop. Labor HURTS. BAD. It is indescribable – you’ll have to experience it for yourself to see what you need to manage.
Now, with all that said, there are many ways to get pain relief during labor that don’t include an epidural. They include heat, cold, position changes, water (bath or shower), medications and relaxation techniques.
I will also add that previously mentioned family members had used narcotic pain medications to relieve pain during labor, but I don’t tolerate narcotics well and knew that I did not want to use them. However, narcotics can be a fantastic tool for labor pain relief, especially in early labor.
Similarities in pregnancies
- Both were inductions before 39 weeks
- Both girl babies
- Both were 9+ lb babies
Differences in pregnancies
- Induction methods
- With my first induction, I only received IV Pitocin to induce labor. My labor was sped along by the physician breaking my water (artificial rupture of membranes/AROM)
- With my second induction, I only received 1 dose of oral misoprostol (cytotec). I was starting from less dilation and needed cervical ripening. This put me into labor, and that was augmented by AROM as well
- Gestational age
- I was 38 weeks with my first induction and 37 weeks with my second
- There was some discrepancy in my gestational age at the second induction, so it’s believed I was somewhere between 37-39 weeks
- Pregnancy complications
- First pregnancy: preterm contractions with E starting at 32 weeks, so I was nearly 4cm dilated at the time of induction. I had been on bedrest and taking nifedipine for a few weeks to control contractions
- Second pregnancy: pregnancy induced thrombocytopenia (low platelets)
- With both pregnancies I had well-controlled type 1 diabetes. I have had type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition that affects my ability to produce insulin, since I was 17 years old. This, along with genetics, caused my babies to both be large (both my husband and I were big babies as well, though)
Length of labor
- My induction with E lasted 16 hours. I was in active labor for 8 hours. It took me 1-2 hours in the transitional phase of labor to progress from 8-10cm. I pushed for 90 minutes.
- My induction with A lasted 8 hours. I was in active labor for about 3 hours. I transitioned from 7 to 10 cm in about 15 minutes. I pushed for 20 minutes.
Amount of pain
- The pain was the same for each labor, but was far less after receiving the epidural with the first baby.
- The transitional phase of labor is intense. I’m not kidding, I said more than once to just kill me, I can’t do it anymore. It’s wild. I got my epidural during that transitional phase with my first pregnancy. With my second pregnancy, I requested a cervical exam when I started having those same crazy thoughts, and I was 7 cm. I got out of bed, went to the bathroom, and started pushing on the toilet accidentally. My nurse (and good friend/coworker!) helped me get back into bed where I was checked and was 10cm. I was planning to get an epidural until I found out I could just push and have a baby!
What Will I Do For Baby #3?
My husband and I are pretty sure we want another child, and I actually have NO idea if I will get an epidural or not! It will really depend on the length of labor for me!
I loved how relaxed and in control I was with my first birth and pushing. With my second birth, I felt panicked and overwhelmed by pain. Granted, that all went away when I heard the baby crying, but the moment felt more chaotic.
I did like how I could move more during labor without an epidural, and how I could get up immediately after the birth. It was much easier to move in bed and nurse with full function of my lower body.
Benefits of the epidural:
- A calm, controlled delivery
- I could focus on pushing tips because I wasn’t overwhelmed by pain
- I had a clear mind when my baby was born
- Minimal pain/discomfort
Cons of the epidural
- I had it late in labor so my muscles were tense. My back was sore where the epidural went in for a few weeks after
- I couldn’t get out of bed immediately following birth. I had to wait 1.5-2.5 hours to stand
- Slight increase in risk for c-section
Pros of a natural birth:
- I could listen to my body and move intuitively in labor
- It was much quicker (could also have been because I had already had a baby)
- I felt empowered, and a huge rush of accomplishment after the baby was out
- It was easier to push with my body when I could feel each contraction so strongly
Cons of a natural birth:
- It hurts….bad….
- I was not as clear headed, and there are moments towards the end of my labor that I do not remember because of the pain
- It can be very hard to push into the pain, especially as the baby is crowning
- I felt my tearing…it was not fun…
The bottom line….
You should go into labor with an open mind! Take each contraction as it comes. You should try to manage your pain in any way you feel you can. Birth is a personal experience, and there is no “one size fits all.” If you want an epidural – GREAT! You are a rockstar! If you don’t want one – AWESOME! You can do anything you put your mind to!
There really is no medal.You don’t get a gold star either way. You should make the choice that works best for you!
Love your baby, trust your body, and rock it!