Patient-Controlled Epidural Analgesia (PCEA)
"The latest trend in epidurals is the PCEA," says Dr. Camann. "Doctors have been using this technique to manage pain for surgery patients for years." A woman is given an epidural along with a button to administer pain medication. When she wants relief, she need only press the button. The PCEA gives laboring women a sense of control.
Effects of Medications on Your Labor
Analgesics may cause dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea, a woman may not be able to move around during labor. For that reason a woman may also experience lower blood pressure, so constant monitoring of both mother and baby are required. The soothing effect of the narcotic helps some women relax so that labor comes more quickly.
Side effects from epidurals are not common, according to Dr. Camann. Depending on the amount of medication a woman receives, she may still be mobile with an epidural, however some hospital policies prohibit walking once medication has been given. Epidurals may help a mother relax, hastening labor, but they may also prolong labor by lessening the urge to push.
Effects of Medications on Your Baby
For the most part, labor medications have a minimal effect on the baby; yet no medication is without potential side effects. Since analgesics are put into the bloodstream, the medication can pass to the baby, making him drowsy and potentially lowering his heart rate and interfering with breathing. The baby may also be groggy after birth as the medication works it way through his system.
As epidurals include lower dosages of pain relief to a specific region of the body, the effects are less likely to influence the baby's behavior.
Talking to Your Doctor or Midwife about Pain
"I believe the best approach to labor pain is to arrive educated, but flexible," explains Dr. Viscomi. "A rigid, 12-page birth plan is not likely to serve you well in the unpredictable world of birthing. An open mind and listening to your body will serve you well."
Talk to your OB-GYN or midwife in the early weeks of pregnancy to find out if he or she understands your thoughts and desires regarding pain medication during labor and delivery. No medication can guarantee a pain-free childbirth, but by knowing what's available, you have a better chance of finding the right pain management to fit your needs.