Not sure if you’ll want an epidural or not? Honestly, you’re not alone. The majority of patients don’t know WHICH they will prefer when labor actually starts (honestly, how can you). So, here are some tips on how to prepare and what to do at the hospital when the time actually comes?
But how do I know so much about epidurals? Hi, I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse®. I’ve been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of labor and delivery experience. I’ve seen thousands. of patients unsure about what they want and I have some great tips on both how to prepare and how to manage your plans in the labor room!
Learn about the other options
The epidural isn’t your only pain management option in labor. While it does vary a bit hospital to hospital about what you can get in labor there are a few basic options:
- Natural pain management
- IV pain medication
- Nitrous oxide (availability varies)
I actually talk about them all right here (so grab it):
I think a lot of people get stuck in the “epidural or nothing” mentality that it doesn’t do you any favors. Knowing that you have options is a HUGE help!
I also talk about all four of those pretty extensively in here — including how to best use them during your labor.
Learn About Labor
While labor is very nuanced, it normally follows some basic patterns that if you learn them, can help a lot.
You’ll know that early labor can be prolonged, and really annoying — but that at some point it’s going to shift gears into more active labor (that’s when you’d go to the hospital).
Then you’ll hit a transition phase before you start pushing and then have your baby.
They’re called the stages of labor.
Every person takes them all at their own pace, but it’s progression is something expected in labor. As you know this and know what your body is going to do/feel like during each of them helps this “fear” that things are going off the rails (hopefully that makes sense).
I compare it to riding a roller coaster in the dark. If you’ve ridden it before and gotten some help you can enjoy it a bit more than if you’re just stuck in the dark with no idea which way you’re going to go or how to brace yourself.
Getting a good birth class is going to help you know what to expect. I recommend this one.
Prepare both ways
I think it’s important for everyone to prepare for birth in BOTH ways (epidural or non-medication birth).
That means you understand the epidural, how it works, what it can do for you (and what it will NOT do for you). You know some basics of the procedure and what you can do after you have it (aka, take a nap but then still keep moving from in the bed).
It also means you have some natural pain management techniques. These are SO important even if you’re 100% team epidural for a variety of reasons:
- Laboring at home & before you get the epidural
- Coping in case the epidural doesn’t work quite the way you’re hoping for
- Managing after birth pains
- Living with teenagers (I joke, but seriously — learning to cope with stress/pain is a great life skill regardless).
The Online Prenatal Class for Couples comes with a FREE bonus video all about natural pain management techniques. I’ll show you how to breathe, some techniques to use at home to incorporate music, massage and distraction to help you cope with it.
Having a LOT of different techniques at your fingertips (and your PARTNER’s fingertips) is a huge win in all of this. Breathing doesn’t work for everyone, but learning how to move and how your partner can comfort and support you is a big win!
You’re Not Alone
A lot of people seem to think that everyone else has their labor plans figured out, but as someone who’s seen a LOT of people in labor (and continues to talk to pregnant women daily) I’m here to say they don’t.
I’m a huge fan of birth plans, but much like the rest of life, they don’t always work out like you’d planned (grab my free birth plan worksheet/video series right here):
In fact, the idea that you’re going to figure it out as you go is one of the smartest things to think.
People who are 100% team “unmedicated birth” sometimes end up needing an epidural (or a c-section) — and they haven’t taken the time to learn about the “other side” of things. Perhaps leading to more anxiety, stress and possible birth trauma afterwards.
People who are 100% team epidural are unable to cope with early labor at home, they may end up at the hospital too early and may not use movement to their advantage both before or after the epidural.
OR if they don’t get the epidural (for a variety of reasons) they just freak out that they aren’t able to handle it. Which again — can lead to birth trauma.
We don’t want any of these things at the hospital, so being prepared for both is such a great idea. I love that you are already on the right path!
Take it as it comes
This is the biggest one.
I see people coming in super stressed about getting the epidural at the “right time” or how they’re going to mange the pain.
The good news is that IV pain medication works almost instantly.
The epidural works faster than most people think it will. Once they get it in, within a few minutes each contraction is getting shorter and less intense.
What I mean to say is that you can take each contraction on it’s own.
You don’t have to think about what labor might be down the line.
Yes, you understand that labor is going to progress, but that you’re OK right now and you’re coping pretty well right now — and if in an hour you’re not. You’ve got options.
Honestly, knowing I have options makes me feel so much more secure. I just always want to know where the exits are, right? 🙂
The Online Prenatal Class for Couples is going to teach you your options, and how to talk with your labor team to make the best choices for you right now. It really is the easy way to get prepared for birth.
- Bite-sized <20 minute lessons make it easy to shove into your busy life
- Available when you are, lessons are on-demand
- So many couples call it “fun” and enjoy doing it with their partner (rather than a chore).
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice. She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
As an evidence-based prenatal educator Hilary has delivered thousands of babies and has educated hundreds of thousands of parents from a diverse patient population to help them have a confident birth.