Drugs in Labor: Are They Really Necessary. . . or Even Safe? The use of epidurals is so common today that many perinatal professionals are calling the 1990s the age of the epidural epidemic. Believed by many in the medical profession to be safe and effective, the epidural seems now to be regarded as a veritable panacea for dealing with the pain of childbirth. It is true that most women experience pain during the course of labor. This pain can be intense and very real, even for those who have prepared for it. But pain is only one of many possible sensations and experiences that characterize the experience of giving birth. Barbara Katz Rothman, a sociologist who studies birth in America, writes that in the medical management of childbirth, the experience of the mother is viewed by physicians as pain: pain experienced and pain to be avoided.1 Having experienced childbirth ourselves, we have great compassion for women in painful labors. However, we also feel a responsibility to mothers and their babies to explore issues concerning the use of epidural anesthesia in labor issues that are seldom discussed prenatally. Several factors make the use of epidurals potentially hazardous. The Physician’s Desk Reference cautions that local anesthetics – the type used in epidurals – rapidly cross the placenta. When used for epidural blocks, anesthesia can cause varying degrees of maternal, fetal, and neonatal toxicity which can result in the following side effects: hypotension, urinary retention, fecal and urinary incontinence, paralysis of lower extremities, loss of feeling in the limbs, headache, backache, septic meningitis, slowing of labor, increased need for forceps and vacuum deliveries, cranial nerve palsies, allergic reactions, respiratory depression, nausea, vomiting, and seizures.2 In addition, a piece of the catheter that delivers the drug into the duraregion of the back may break off and be left in the woman, a dangerous risk...
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