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Guidelines for Epidural Candidacy During Labor

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As any woman who has delivered a baby can attest, the pain that accompanies childbirth can be intense. While some women hope to forgo pain medications and opt for an all-natural delivery, others elect to have epidural anesthesia. While most women can receive an epidural without complication, not everyone is a candidate for the pain medication, which blocks nerve impulses in the spine.

Ideal Candidates

The American Pregnancy Association notes that more than half of all women who give birth at hospitals rely on epidurals for pain management. As long as you are in good general health, are dilated at least 4 centimeters and are in active labor, you likely will qualify for an epidural. You also must be planning on giving birth in a hospital; because of the risk involved, epidurals are delivered by skilled anesthesiologists and are not an option for home births.

Dilation Station

Because epidurals can slow your labor and make it harder to push, anesthesiologists typically wait until you are 4 to 5 centimeters dilated and in active labor. The American Pregnancy Association notes that if you dilate too quickly, there might not be enough time for pain control with an epidural, especially if you are actively pushing your infant through the birth canal.

Blood Concerns

The quality of your blood will also determine whether you are a candidate for an epidural. If you take blood thinners or aspirin on a regular basis, you likely won't be able to get an epidural. If you have a low platelet count or a blood infection, your physician will likely advise against an epidural.

Body Weight or Physical Limitations

An epidural may not be as effective if you are obese and you may experience a blood pressure problem, according to a study in the "American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology." Moreover, the placement of an epidural must be precise. In obese women, the anesthesiologist might not be able to determine the correct space to inject the epidural needle. When getting an epidural, you must stay still while lying on your side or sitting up and arching your back; therefore, if you have a physical limitation or spinal disorder, your physician likely will deny your request for the medication.

Back Infection or Surgery

Although every effort is taken to reduce the chance of infection, complications can occur. To reduce the risk of complications, mamas-to-be who have recently had back surgery or a back infection probably won't be able to receive an epidural.

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