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Epidural vs. Natural Childbirth

Photograph by Twenty20

You've waited nine months to bring your baby into the world. The type of childbirth experience that you have depends on your own preferences, your tolerance for pain and your doctor's advice. Before you create your birth plan, understanding the pros and cons of an epidural or natural childbirth can help you to make an informed decision to make labor and delivery manageable and memorable.

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Body Basics

An epidural is a form of anesthesia administered through a catheter placed into your back between your vertebrae. This typically lessens feeling from the waist down, easing the pain of labor. Even though you can still feel and move your legs, you may not have the ability to stand or walk after an epidural, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The catheter will stay in place, taped to your back, through the delivery. On the other hand, natural childbirth requires no IVs, catheters or other procedures. Going natural also means that you can stand, walk and feel the full range of sensations that your body is going through during the entire labor and delivery.

First Stage of Labor

During the first stage of labor you'll go from the onset of contractions in the early phase through 10 centimeters dilation in the transition phase. The American Pregnancy Association notes that epidurals are typically not given until the second phase of the first stage of labor, when the cervix is dilated between 4 and 5 centimeters. This means that you will experience the pain from contractions during the early phase whether you choose to get an epidural or not. This may last from 8 to 12 hours, according to the American Pregnancy Association. During the remaining two phases of labor -- the active second phase and transition phase -- you can choose to lessen the pain with an epidural or go without pharmacological help.

During Delivery

Even though there's no gold medal for enduring the most pain during labor and delivery, choosing to forgo an epidural has its advantages. While you may not want to feel the contractions, these painful parts of the process can serve as a guide to facilitate and speed up the baby's entry into the birth canal, notes childbirth educator Judith A. Lothian, a registered nurse, in her article "Why Natural Childbirth?". If you choose an epidural, you may have difficulty feeling contractions and controlling the pushing part of delivery, according to the American Pregnancy Association. This may result in your doctor needing to put pressure on your uterus or use forceps to help the baby out.

Choice and Risks

The American Pregnancy Association notes that the side effects from an epidural may include a sudden drop in blood pressure, a severe headache, a slowdown in the speed of your labor, difficulty pushing and nerve damage in a few rare cases. Following delivery you may also have some back soreness where the epidural was placed, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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