Preparing for labor can be a daunting task for even the most eager of moms-to-be. Although you're thrilled to meet your little one, you have to make a ton of decisions about your birth plan, and the question of pain relief can be a serious one for many moms. You may even feel guilty about opting out of a an unmedicated birth. And if that's the case, you many wonder does getting an epidural affect the baby? Because no mom wants to harm her baby.
First, it helps to understand what makes an epidural work. According to the Mayo Clinic, an epidural block is a type of pain medication used before a C-section or vaginal birth, and it can alleviate most lower-body pains without slowing down the labor process significantly. It's a low-dose, regional anesthetic. And, given the universally understood pain of childbirth, epidurals are pretty common. As reported by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, 61 percent of women of all races received epidurals in a 2008 study of 1,829,302 singleton vaginal deliveries. So epidurals are widely used, but at what cost to the baby?
Although more research is still needed to thoroughly understand the full effects, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), epidurals may have some subtle effects on newborn babies. As further noted in the APA, it appears that epidurals may cause the baby to become lethargic (making labor more difficult), or cause the newborn to struggle with latching on for proper breastfeeding. And findings by the U.S. National Library of Medicine reinforce this idea: although the medication will enter your baby's bloodstream, and it may make for a slightly longer delivery, it does not appear that epidurals have any lasting disadvantages for babies. Again, the exact correlation between epidural use and any side effects are difficult to pinpoint, because so many factors — from the exact dosage of medication to the baby's own characteristics — can also affect these outcomes.
Of course, all of this ambiguity from research does not help moms-to-be make their decision. As with most aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, this is a choice that can be best made with help from a doctor who is familiar with your own situation and health background. Some moms may want to experience labor without any help from medicine, whereas others are in the "Give me ALL the drugs" camp. Both are understandable positions. But whether you decide to go for the epidural or skip it, your end goal is still in sight: a happy newborn baby.