The number one fear I see in my clients who are having their first baby is the pain of labor. Very few new moms have seen labor in real life; and the images we get from TV and movies show us a very skewed sense of what happens and gives us the buzz word everyone knows: an epidural.

While an epidural works as a good TV short hand for any and all pain medicine, I tell my clients that it is the high end of a series of options.

At the low end of the series are non-medical options, like focused breathing, massage, or sterile water injections.

Then moving on to pharmaceutical options, we start with analgesics; pain relief medicines that are used to “take the edge off.” These can range from something as mild as Tylenol up through other drugs such as Stadol, Fentanyl, Nubain, and Demerol. These can be given as pills, as a shot (usually into the thigh), or in an IV as either a drip or a pump the patient controls.

Further along in the series of pain management options, are anesthetics, medications that, by numbing the nerves, makes one insensitive to pain. There are local anesthetics that can be given to a woman a few minutes before birth to numb just the vaginal area or regional anesthesia, like the epidural, which blocks the feeling to a large area of the body.

All medications have side effects, some of which are quite significant. The most common side effects of analgesics for moms are: nausea, feeling drowsy, dizziness, and low blood pressure, while side effect for babies are: a lower heart rate, lower respiration, and being born sleepy.

The epidural can cause low blood pressure, fever, soreness around the injection site, and headache (both the soreness and headache can last for several days). There is also the fact that you can’t walk while having the epidural, which leads to having a catheter inserted (pretty mild as side effects go, but one that most laboring moms don’t expect). It can also cause labor to slow, which may lead to other medications being given to get things rolling again.

With so many options available, I would suggest any pregnant mom who is concerned about pain talk with their doctor about this subject in order to get a fuller and well-informed idea of the side effects and how each medication can work for you.

Naomi Starsiak is a birth and postpartum doula, a placenta encapsulator, a natural birth consultant, and the co-owner of A Peaceful Birth doula & childbirth service. You can find her on Facebook at facebook.com/APeacefulBirthDoulas.

Have a question? E-mail it to Naomi at nestarsiak@gmail.com.

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