You're probably panicking about a lot of things as you get closer to your due date, and one of those things? Probably labor. How are you going to get that baby out of there? And what happens if your epidural doesn't work? There's good news for you. According to a review in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the probability your epidural won't work and you'll feel everything is vanishingly small. In fact, in large studies, 98 to 99 percent of epidurals provide the pain relief you so desperately need. Friends, this is great. Giving birth is stressful enough without worrying about getting a needle in your spine, and still feeling the mind-crushing pain of contractions.
At least, for most women, the pain is mind-crushing. I didn't know pain before my four hours of unmedicated, unremitting back labor, which American Pregnancy Association defined as ahhhh. Some women, however, can manage with Lamaze breathing, aromatherapy, or simply by being tough-as-nails vampire slayers. Nevertheless, doctors agree that labor pain is one of the most severe pains in the human experience.
Don't buy Grantly Dick Read's claims that fear causes birth pain, either, because that guy was almost as wrong as he was racist. Labor pain is visceral, somatic, and definitely not all in your head. On the bright side, according to the journal Reviews in Pain, the memory of labor pain seems to be short lived. (Wait, is that a bright side?) Also, feel free to ignore your friend who hasn't had a baby herself, but is convinced that if you'd just tried a yoga ball or hypno-birthing or acupuncture or whatever, you wouldn't have needed anesthesia.
Romper spoke with Dr. Eva Martin, founder and CEO of Elm Tree Medical, about the rare cases in which the epidural lets us down. "Epidural failure is most often caused when the epidural is not placed in the correct location," she writes in an email interview. "As the name implies, the catheter delivering the anesthetic medicine is placed in the 'epidural' space, a thin space that lies over the spinal cord. If the catheter is misplaced, the medicine isn't delivered to the correct location and doesn't work."
In some instances, she notes, the catheter simply isn't delivering enough medicine to manage pain — a problem easily fixed by the anesthesiologist, who will likely "top off" your catheter with more medicine. Martin has also seen cases in which the catheter was placed too far to the left or right, and relieved pain more effectively on one side or the other, which sounds both truly horrible and deeply annoying (much like the recent Baywatch reboot).
Don't let these unlikely epidural issues give you nightmares. According to Martin, if your epidural fails during labor, the anesthesiologist will simply try to re-place the catheter in the correct position. Again, epidurals generally work, but if yours fails, try not to yell at the doctor re-inserting that needle into your spine. They're only trying to help.
I know, I know. I said try.