What’s it really like to have an epidural?
As a pregnant mom, you naturally wonder about your options for giving birth. That baby’s gotta come out and you might have noticed that there are a few choices to make.
One of the biggest decisions is whether or not to have an epidural. Are you pro pain relief or not? Or have you not decided?
If what you want most from your birth is to reduce your pain, then an epidural could be the right choice for you. But you know that already. What you probably don’t know is what it feels like to give birth with an epidural and that’s where this post is going to help you.
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What is an epidural?
An epidural is a pain killer injected directly into the lining of the spinal cord of the patient. It makes the mother feel number from the waist down – which means she can give birth vaginally or by c-section while still awake but without pain.
The pain relief is a huge benefit – but an epidural is likely to change how you experience your labor and birth in other ways.
- You may still feel some pain after your epidural and need a further dose.
- Your movement will be restricted because you’ll be numb from the waist down, ie it’s more likely you’ll have to labor and deliver in bed
- Potentially longer second stage of labor
- The numbness will mean you don’t know when you need to urinate so you’ll probably need a urinary catheter.
Learn more about the possible side effects of an epidural in this informative article.
Note: I am not a medical professional and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice.
Okay, so that’s what an epidural IS – but what’s it actually LIKE? I’ll go first.
I had an epidural myself a few years ago with my first child. It wasn’t what I planned – but the pain of that first birth shocked and overwhelmed me. (I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was much worse.)
So after my waters broke, the pain intensified fast and I asked for an epidural. Having it placed was not fun but the area was numbed beforehand – and frankly, the contractions were so bad that I didn’t care any more if the epidural hurt. There was some pretty strong pressure when they inserted it.
It definitely helped my pain a lot – though I remember being indignant that I was still in pain, and needing a top up. After that, I didn’t feel a lot of pain – but my legs were useless lumps that kept falling off the bed. I remember finding it hilarious as they slid down and my OH lifted them back up again.
So it’s safe to say that it was not a particularly active labor – I could still feel to push but it took a long time and ended with a forceps delivery.
But the worst of the pain was gone after the epidural and at the time that meant everything. If I’m totally honest, it wasn’t the birth experience I wanted – but all my natural plans went out the window when the contractions ramped up and there was nothing I could do about it.
Now let’s hear from some other moms – their stories aren’t in any particular order.
#1 ‘My epidural was a slice of heaven’
LaCresha of No Guide for Mom says:
After 30 hours of laboring naturally at home with my contractions still 5-7 minutes apart, my husband and I decided to go to the hospital to see how far I was dilated. I was at 4 cm and the pain was becoming overwhelming.
I accepted the offer for an epidural without hesitation. The anesthesiologist was in my room in less than 30 minutes.
He ended up sticking me twice because my left side wasn’t affected at all. Once the epidural began working, which felt like almost instantly, it was like a slice of Heaven. I felt nothing!
I only knew I was having contractions because my sister was looking at the screen and announcing, “Oh wow! This is a big one!”
It wasn’t until I was started on Pitocin that I began to feel pressure with each contraction – and even then my pain was a 2/10.
#2 Epidural with the first baby
Another mom who chose an epidural during labor was Dela of Brown Skin Mama.
I had an epidural before with my firstborn.
#3 ‘I was planning a homebirth’
Another mom who never planned on having an epidural but did is Stephanie of Mommysaurus.
My original birthing plan was to do a water homebirth. After over 30 hrs of labor at home without much progression, I transferred to a hospital with my midwife and asked for an epidural since I was so exhausted.
I was nervous about getting the epidural because my contractions were close together so I had my doubts that I’d be able to stay still enough. Luckily, the anesthesiologist was a seasoned pro and it kicked in almost immediately.
The epidural helped me tremendously! I was able to take a nap.
When I woke, it was time to push. The epidural was so effective that I couldn’t feel my legs or any contractions which was a surreal feeling.
I pushed for two hours and finally gave birth – my baby ended up being 10lbs 2 oz! (No medical issues. It was a surprise for everyone.)
An epidural wasn’t part of my original birth plan but it allowed me to deliver vaginally. If I hadn’t gotten one, I most likely would’ve ended up with a C-section due to pure exhaustion on my part.
My tip would be to wait as long as you can before getting the epidural but not too long that you miss the window.
#4 ‘My experience with epidurals was different every time.’
Gale of Imaginative Homeschool, on the other hand, had more than one epidural – and found her experiences varied.
My first epidural was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. When the anesthesiologist stuck the needle in my back a stinging, searing pain shot through me and I squealed…and flinched, which made a second attempt necessary.
I screamed the second time too, but kept still. My husband had been in front of me, and I was holding his hands, and half way through I felt his hands leaving mine, quickly to be replaced by a nurse. (He’s not usually squeamish, but seeing me scream like that made him feel faint, and he didn’t want to pull me off balance.)
But, bad as it was, it was over quickly…and the rest of my labor, which turned out to involve 3 hours of pushing and an episiotomy and forceps to bring my 10 lb 3 oz son into the world, was painless.
I could feel everything I needed to – the sensation that I needed to push was definitely there – but had no pain throughout the whole process. So, in spite of how much it hurt to get it, I was grateful for my epidural and decided to get another when my second son was on his way.
Second baby, second epidural
We knew this time that the baby might also be large, and so my doctor planned to induce me on his due date if he didn’t arrive before then. I knew it would go quicker than the first time, but for some crazy reason I still wanted to try waiting for a little longer to get the epidural (NOT my best choice).
The anesthesiologist was not on site this time – and by the time he came the labor pains were pretty serious! I knew I wanted that shot but, still, it was hard to brace myself for the pain from last time. But, there was none! No pain at all!
But, minutes after getting the epidural the baby started crowning. I was way closer to giving birth than I thought I was. The epidural hadn’t fully taken, and without the pain fully dulled it actually made it more difficult to know when to push. It was my worst birth experience.
When my third baby came, by the time we got to the hospital the contractions were already very close together. When I told them I wanted an epidural, the nurses gave each other questioning looks and told me that they would call the anesthesiologist.
I knew he wouldn’t make it in time. With my husband rubbing my lower back throughout (I don’t know how his hand didn’t give out), the pain was not too bad, except for the very last stage of pushing and that was over very quickly.
#5 ‘The epidural was a game changer’
Amy of The Postpartum Party tells how an epidural made a bad experience better.
For me, the epidural was a game changer! I waited as long as I could to get one, but honestly I wish I had just gotten it sooner.
I was induced and had a foley bulb inserted. Somehow it got stuck and they had to really tug to get it out. Once it was out, I was a mess. I couldn’t stop shaking. Literally, my legs were going frantic and my husband had to hold them still.
I got the epidural and it was so much better. I was able to sleep after that, which I really needed!
I had completely forgotten everything I learned about breathing through contractions and I just couldn’t relax until I had the epidural. It was such sweet relief.
#6 ‘A positive birth story’
And Jenni of Roots of Truth has positive epidural birth story to share.
#7 “I would have an epidural again”
Toni-Ann of Real Happy Mom also had mixed experiences with her two epidurals.
My first pregnancy was pretty good. I only had morning sickness the first trimester, but overall everything went well including delivery. Because I already knew that the contractions would get stronger, I immediately said yes when asked if I wanted an epidural.
Once the epidural kicked in I was comfortable and got some rest. The only tricky part was because I was numb I couldn’t lift my legs and it took me a few tries to get the pushing down.
With my second pregnancy, everything wasn’t as pleasant as the first time. The epidural was not as effective as I remembered. Only one half of my body was numb. This made it impossible for me to sleep after being awake from the contractions for almost the whole day.
The doctor tried to reposition things and the nurses advised me to lay on my side, but it still did not help. When it was time to actually start pushing, I was exhausted. I remember crying because I was so tired and didn’t know how I was going to push the baby out.
But women have supernatural strengths. I was able to deliver my son and recovered well. If I ever have another child I would have an epidural again even though my last experience wasn’t the best.
# 8 ‘I was prepped for a C-section’
Catherine had an epidural late in her first labor.
I had an epidural for my first baby, but not my second. With my first, by the time the epidural was in, I was nearly dilated so I knew when I had my second that I could make it to that point without one.
It wasn’t my plan to have an epidural, but my first baby was facing the wrong way up and his head was tipped up. Ultimately, he was a forceps delivery but I was all prepped for C-section if that didn’t work – which is to say, I would have needed the epidural regardless with him.
They boosted the epidural so they could go straight to C-section and I remember not being able to feel anything when they told me to push or not push. I could only mentally think “don’t push” or “push” and hope that my body was responding to my mental commands!
I think my advice would be to go with the flow. Have an opinion, but be prepared to do what you need to keep you and baby safe.
#9 ‘I loved it’
Hilda of Real Mom Help has no doubts that the epidural was the way to go for her.
I had epidurals with all 3 babies and I was induced with all three and I loved it.
I know that sounds super weird but the epidurals worked well for me and I was able to be emotionally present when they were born because I wasn’t in pain. I felt everything and I knew when to push but it didn’t hurt.
I have a very low tolerance to pain and I will be the first to admit that my number one wish was to have an epidural.
I know it’s not for everybody and I understand the risks associated but this worked for me and I had very memorable and pleasant birth experiences because of it.
#10 Epidurals after the birth
And finally, Sarah of Busy Blooming Joy had a very different experience:
I’ve had 2 epidurals, but both times it was after the baby came because the afterbirth refused to come out and had to be pulled out!
Take-aways for the pregnant mom considering an epidural
I’m so grateful to all these awesome moms for sharing their experiences – and I hope you found the stories helpful as you prepare for the birth of your baby.
So what does all this mean for you – the one with the bump?
Well, it means that there’s a good chance that the epidural would drastically reduce your childbirth pain.
There’s also a chance you’ll have one even though you plan not to (that pain is BAD!)
But the epidural changes the way you experience labor and birth in other ways too – like being less mobile.
The best thing you can do is have a thorough understanding of what happens during birth and what an epidural does.
What to do next to prepare for your birth?
Take Birth It Up – The Epidural Series from Mommy Labor Nurse for only $39. It’s a brilliantly thorough class and you’re going to love how she explains everything so clearly and her enthusiasm for her subject! Check it out here and get 10% off with coupon LAPTOPSANDNAPTIMES.
(She also has a natural birth class if that might suit you better. Same coupon works there too!)
Here are some helpful articles to help you get a clear picture of what having an epidural involves and means for you.
More pregnancy and birth ideas