The epidural gets both a lot of flack and love online. Some people love it, some hate it — but what can you expect from it? Today we’re going to talk about a few side effects a good amount of people experience that it’s nice to know about in advance.
And if you’re one of those people who LOVES to know stuff in advance, I would 100% recommend this. So much good information about ALL of labor (including pain management) you’re not going to want to miss it.
I should quickly mention the difference between a side-effect and a risk. There are side effects of medications and procedures and those are known and tolerable (the ones you’ll read about here). But there are also RISKS to an epidural, and your provider will talk about those with you before they give it.
Blood Pressure Drops
Pregnant people don’t talk about this one much, but labor nurses are well aware this could be an issue for you. To prevent it, we try to get a full liter of IV fluid in you prior to getting the epidural.
It’s caused as all your body relaxes as the pain goes away and then your blood pressure drops.
It’s easily remedied by more IV fluids or medications from anesthesia — but it can be disconcerting.
This happened to me on my first baby. I felt ringing in my ears and then thought I was going to die. I mean, your body DOES think you’re dying because blood pressure is pretty important, but it was resolved really quickly.
It’s just something to be aware of.
Patients can feel the blood pressure drop before the nurse can find it with the blood pressure cuff, so if you feel “off” let them know so they can start treatment ASAP.
Fun Facts: We’ll take your blood pressure about every 2 minutes for the first little bit after the epidural is in to monitor for stuff like this.
Many people get shaking after the epidural. It can be from the meds, or sometimes the cold fluid running near your spinal column (we’re not exactly sure why).
The best thing to do is just to deep breathe and try not fight it. I always tell patients to just go with it. Sometimes a warm blanket will help you relax too.
If it’s really bad, we sometimes have medications we can give to help it.
That’s right I said a WARM BLANKET — did you know most hospital units have a “blanket warmer” that can help you warm up and relax. They’re magical, one of the BEST things in the hospital (although the bar is low). 🙂
Oh, and if you’re wondering if there are other options than the epidural — grab my pain management options information right here:
Some people get a small rise in their temperature. I wouldn’t call this a FEVER but it does raise a bit.
Again, they think that it’s due to the cold fluid going near your spinal column so your body reacts to raise your whole body’s temperature.
It may cause that shaking I mentioned above, and it can make your hot/cold sensors a bit off.
Other medications like Cytotec can also cause a small temperature too.
Some people get nauseated. It can happen due to the blood pressure drop I mentioned above, but some people don’t react well to the meds.
OR some people are just nauseated during labor and they suddenly notice it more because they’re not in pain too.
If you’re feeling nauseated, let your nurse know. Most providers already have an anti-nausea drug already ordered for you that we can easily give and help you, hopefully, feel better (there are a couple of them — Zofran and Phenergan, so if one isn’t working ask them if they can try the other one).
If you love these tips like asking for anti-nausea meds, don’t forget this. Let an experienced labor nurse walk you through amazing tips like that!
Some people itch with the epidural. It’s a reaction to the medications used. If you find yourself itchy tell your nurse. There are medications we can give, but often they make you sleep — so just FYI.
Pro Tip: One of my favorite things for mild itching is to give patients a dry washcloth from the hospital. They’re a little scratchy and it is better than digging your nails in. I find it works better than even a wet washcloth (although I often give both).
Most often this itch goes away with time too as your body gets used to the drugs.
This one sounds sort of silly, but sometimes people aren’t really expecting how numb they feel. Often providers give a large amount of medication at the beginning which numbs you a bit more than you’ll be numbed later. You may also lost movement from the bra line down (aka you can’t move your legs).
As a nurse I love this because it’s a great time for you to take a nap and really relax (and hopefully let baby drop into your pelvis).
Once that initial bolus wears off, you often get more feeling back. If you don’t like how numb you are, you can always ask your nurse to back off the epidural. This will allow you to move more freely.
I talk more about that in my post on the walking epidural (no, you probably won’t walk but you can have more movement).
If there’s something you don’t love (even if it’s something that seems silly like being “too numb”) don’t hesitate to ask. We can’t read your mind and we really do want to help out!
Back Pain Later?
Now, I opened up my Facebook group for people to tell me weird things they experienced with the epidural and everyone came back with back pain afterwards.
I have to say that studies don’t support this. When they compare people who DID get an epidural to people who did NOT get an epidural (both of them had vaginal deliveries though), they found that after the initially healing stage (where your back will be bruised from the needle going in) there was no increased back problems in those who had the epidural.
I have a whole post on back pain after the epidural where I link to the studies and more info.
I think we need to remember that pregnancy and having a baby (along with carrying that baby and breastfeeding) does a LOT to our backs, so things are definitely different after that baby is out. But if you have ANY concerns about that talk with your provider and your anesthesiologist to learn more about the risks.
The thing is, there’s a LOT about pregnancy, birth and postpartum that people don’t talk about. Often they didn’t experience it, so they have no idea. Or, sometimes they forget or are embarassed by it.
When you’re ready to get prepared for those things, come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. You may be thinking it’s too late for you to get it in, but it really only takes a few hours, and since it’s on-demand you can stuff it into your regular day and you’ll be prepared before you know it!
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out the free lesson from it. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
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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.