Temple Health debunks myths about managing labor pain, epidurals and childbirth options

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Debunking myths about labor pain, epidurals and childbirth options
Temple Health experts explain what is and isn't true about Epidurals and other pain control options during childbirth.

LEVITTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Having a baby is a major milestone for many women.

But managing the labor pain can be a big hurdle in itself.

"Since it was my first baby, I really didn't know what to expect," recalls Salena Powers.

Like many first-time moms, Salena wasn't sure how she'd deal with labor pains.

But she learned about all her pain relief options during childbirth classes with Temple Health.

Labor and delivery nurse Kathleen Rieck, R.N., says it's the hot topic of those classes.

"It is a topic that we spend the most time on, it's a topic that we tend to have the most questions about," Rieck says.

And obstetric anesthesiologist Dr. John Kissko says it's never too early to discuss pain control.

"Because you don't want to make any decisions when you're in labor and in a lot of pain," advises Dr. Kissko.

He says some women want no pain medication, while others choose intravenous pain relief.

"The problem with that is that it (the anesthesia) can get to the baby," he says.

Dr. Kissko says he and his colleagues are always looking for new ways to control labor pain, and keep mother and baby safe.

"And we have a couple of new options, including the dural puncture epidural.

It's an extra step, but it can actually get patients comfortable a little faster," he says.

Over the years, epidurals have proven to be the safest, most effective, most popular option.

They use a tiny catheter the size of angel hair pasta to inject a widely-used local anesthetic - the same that dentists use - into the space around the spinal nerves which cause labor pain.

"We're able to block those nerves directly by putting that numbing medicine very close to the nerves," says Dr. Kissko.

Dr. Kissko often has to dispel myths about epidurals, the biggest of which is that epidurals can cause chronic back pain.

"Absolutely not, you cannot get chronic back pain from a labor epidural," he says.

Dr. Kissko says the effort of carrying the baby during pregnancy, and caring for an infant are the more likely sources of back pain.

It's also a myth that you can be paralyzed.

"We are below where the spinal cord ends when we put this local anesthesia in and this needle in," he says.

Or that they make a mother so numb they can't feel anything.

That sometimes happened decades ago, but a properly done epidural now won't.

"It takes away the sharp pain, but it doesn't take away all sensation.

So you actually still feel the pressure, you still feel the contractions," says Dr. Kissko.

"That pressure actually helps the patients be able to know when they're having a contraction, especially during Stage Two or the pushing phase of labor, so that they can actually assist," he says of the birth process.

Salena says an epidural enabled her to be mentally present and enjoy her daughter's birth more, rather than being focused on pain.

"Just having that moment to hold her and just hear her cry," Salena recalls, adding. "I was more able to recognize what exactly just happened."

Dr. Kissko says epidurals today don't increase the risk of C-sections of vacuum deliveries.

It's also a myth it can be "too early" for an epidural. They can actually be administered right after admission to the hospital.

We used to think you had to wait till 4 centimeters, before patients got an epidural.

"Some hospitals, I think, still follow that, but there's no evidence to show that it's necessary," Dr. Kissko says.

He also says it's never "too late" in labor for an epidural.

He says as long as there's at least 15 minutes before birth, there's time.

And he says the epidural begins wearing off when they stop giving the numbing medicine.