Posted: Jul 27, 2012 9:00 AM
Before you get an epidural, consider the risks. They don't happen to everyone, but if you learn about them prior to signing the consent form in the heat of labor, you may understand them better.

Childbirth is known to be one of the most painful things a human being can experience, so it's no wonder mothers seek to alleviate the pain. Epidural anesthesia is one of today's most popular forms of childbirth pain relief because it's extremely effective -- but epidurals are not without their risks. Before you sign a consent form, your care provider or anesthesiologist will inform you of the risks. But learning about some of them in advance of the big day can help you prepare.

Drop in blood pressure

Administration of an epidural can cause your blood pressure to plummet, which can not only make you feel terrible and frightened but can sometimes lead to additional treatment, such as IV fluids or oxygen.

Slowdown of labor and pushing difficulty

Epidurals, if given too early, can cause labor to slow down or even stop. And depending on the level of anesthesia, you may have difficulty pushing -- either sensing when to push or being able to coordinate your muscles to do the work. These issues may lead to interventions, such as augmentation with Pitocin, vacuum extraction or (in extreme cases) C-section.

Spinal headache

If the needle causes a leak of spinal fluid, you can develop a severe headache called a spinal headache. They are usually worse when sitting up and can make life with your new baby severely unpleasant. Those that do not resolve on their own will need to be treated in the hospital with a blood patch, where your own blood is injected into the same area to seal off the leak.

Serious problems

Though extremely rare, it's possible to have permanent nerve damage at the site of the epidural. You can also develop an epidural abscess, suffer convulsions or go into cardiac arrest.

Weigh the risks^ None of these side effects are guaranteed to happen if you have an epidural -- in fact, many are administered with no ill effect at all. But knowing, in advance, that it isn't a risk-free adventure can make a difference in your expectations.

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